Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Pain of Letting Go!

"The pain of purgatory is the pain of the ascension, the pain of standing where Mary of Magdala stood on the morning of the resurrection and hearing: "Do not cling to what was! Eternal life is infinitely richer, but it's not your old life!" Letting go of this world with its joys, its beauties, and its wonderfully solid flesh, is the pain of purgatory."

These are the reflections of Fr. Ron Rolheiser - he says it the best on a feast like today, All Souls Day!

Purgatory Revisited


All Saints Day!

+I share with you two stories that speak to us about saints.

Several years ago, a Presbyterian minister challenged his congregation to open its doors and its heart more fully to the poor. The congregation initially responded with enthusiasm, and a number of programs were introduced that actively invited people from the less-privileged economic areas of the city, including a number of street-people, to come their church. Unfortunately, the romance soon died as coffee cups and other loose items began to disappear, some purses were stolen, and the church and meeting space were often left messy and soiled. A number of the congregation began to complain and demand an end to the experiment: "This isn't what we expected! Our church isn't clean and safe anymore!  We wanted to reach out to these people and this is what we get! This is too messy to continue!"
However, the minister held his ground, pointing out that their expectations were naive  that what they were experiencing was precisely part of the cost of reaching out to the poor, and that Jesus assures us that loving is unsafe and messy, not just in reaching out to the poor, but also in reaching out to anyone.

Wisdom of Charles Schultz:
After Charlie Brown's team lost another baseball game, he went to Lucy and paid five cents for her psychiatric help. She said: "Adversity builds character. Without adversity a person would never mature and be able to face up to all the things that will come later in life." Charlie asked, "What things?" She replied, "More adversity."

+ + + 
Since the early centuries, the church has set aside one day to honor, collectively, all saints, both those officially recognized and those known only to God.  Today, we celebrate all those known and unknown women, men, and even children who lived their lives with transparency, and who were grounded in their personal integrity.  They radiated God’s compassion and were willing to reach out beyond race, creed, gender, ideology, and differences of every kind – no matter the cost, no matter how messy life became when they reached beyond themselves - frequently embracing adversity and more adversity!

Sometimes we tend to think of saints as pious people, at times, irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos and ecstatic gazes. But today, saints are women and men like us who live regular lives and struggle with the ordinary and the extraordinary problems of life.  What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God, the Gospel, and God’s people.  Each one, in his or her own inimitable way, rolled up their sleeves, put on an apron, and in bending, were eager to wash the feet of all whom they met, no matter how messy the conditions or how unwelcoming the environment. They were willing to face up to all the adversities they encountered – from their own culture, their government, the church, or even their own families or communities!

On the feast of all saints, we are not only celebrating those who have died –we are celebrating all who have experienced the Gospel message and know that God dwells with them now.  Death is not the criteria required for sainthood, nor is perfection.  It is in our very participation in life knowing that we have God’s grace and power within us that we can reach beyond ourselves, no matter the cost – no matter the adversity. The saints we celebrate today are the people we know and who lived their faith.  Today, we honor all who have gone before us – and what we can simply say about them is that they tried; they believed.  They lived as best they could; they persevered in their trust in God; they lived the Beatitudes – perhaps without even knowing it.

I’d like to share from the life of a newly sainted woman – Mother Marianne Cope – who reached beyond herself and met adversity in its many forms and disguises. (I share this with you as a graduate of Brother Dutton Grade School and recall fondly the stories of Br. Joseph Dutton who worked on the island of Molokai for 43 years, and who no doubt ministered with Mother Marianne.) 

Prior to the inroads made by Mother Marianne, it is said that hospitals in the U.S. had an unsavory reputation. Many were staffed with unknowledgeable people and were filthy. Many people went to hospitals to die. Mother Marianne began to change all that by instituting cleanliness standards. The simple act of hand-washing between patient visits cut the spread of disease significantly.
She was a hospital administrator that started the patients' rights movement and changed how people cared for the sick.
She made sure the medical facilities welcomed all people regardless of race, creed or economic standing.
She was harshly criticized for treating alcoholics - for she treated their condition as a disease rather than a problem.
In 1884, the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse took charge of a leper hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii.  “When they arrived at the request of the Fr. Damian, they found horrendous conditions.  Patients of all ages and both sexes slept together on bloodstained mattresses on the floor; wards crawled with bedbugs, lice, and maggots.  The stench of rotting flesh permeated the premises.  Mother Marianne immediately improved the sanitary and social conditions of the patients, teaching her sisters how to nurse the sores of the patients.  

When Fr. Damian died from leprosy himself, Mother Marianne took over for him at the island of Molokai.  She took charge and established a new standard of living for the residents.  As a teenager growing up in New York, she had worked in a clothing factory and had a great sense of style.  Rather than provide simple, drab uniforms for her patients, she fashioned beautiful clothing for them.  She took great pride in making dresses for the girls.  When Mother Marianne went to the island people they had no thought for the graces of life.  ‘We are lepers,’ they told her, ‘what does it matter?’ She changed all that.  Doctors have said that her psychology was 50 years ahead of its time.” 

“As Mother Marianne continued to lead her sisters in their work, she also had to deal with government officials who often seemed to cause more hindrance than help. With tact and determination, she was able to overcome the obstacles put in her way.”

No doubt, Mother Marianne and her sisters could have said, “This isn't what we expected,” but they truly reached out in love and looked beyond the mess into the eyes and hearts of those with leprosy.

  • And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people though human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints are there tirelessly spending their lives to alleviate the suffering of humankind – in all its messiness and adversity.
  • In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, we can be sure that the saints will be there to name the injustice and call it social sin. 
  • In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, we can be sure the saints will be there with a holy resiliency, boldly standing in the mess and muck of it all - choosing life - and willing to stare death in the face for the sake of God’s reign.
  •  In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups, we can be sure that the saints will be there and will witness to the freedom of the Spirit regardless of restrictive laws about the use of those gifts.
  • In an age when discrimination, elitism, and oppression operates in society, in governments, or in churches, we can be sure the saints will be there to again proclaim the reign of God and be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all.  

The nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture.  But, the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are present here and those beyond this faith community – for it is God’s caring that we witness and it is God’s love that we share – no matter the cost, no matter the messiness of it all – let us be willing to face up to all things that will come now and later as adversity and more adversity, for it truly builds character.

So, I close with the words of Tagore – who speaks to us about what being a saint truly is:
-I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
 I awoke and saw that life was service.
 I acted and behold, service was joy.
- Rabindranath Tagore

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Lake Michigan near Sheboygan, WI
All of us at sometime during these days may find ourselves watching our Smartphones, iPads, computers, and TV’s to catch the latest on the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath of its path through the US east coast and States westward – all the way over to the shores of Lake Michigan.  Even as I write, 40 mph wind gusts buffet my windows!

I recalled a movie (from the past century -1984), Star Man, starring Jeff Bridges as an “alien” – in human form.  All through the movie, he was pursued by the FBI and one particular agent.  Upon finally meeting up with each other face to face, there is a scene in which the FBI agent asks the “alien” –“While you have been here, what did you learn about us?”  (And this is what I consider just brilliant!). The "alien" responds, “I learned that when things become at their worst, you become at your best.”  Tah-dah! Get it?  This is a time when things are at their worst – floods, fires, tornadoes, thunder snow storms, people, places, and the environment trying to recover from the effects of this Super Storm Sandy!  And did we not see us “at our best” after Katrina, the earthquake in Japan, and during the recent drought in the Midwest?
As I watch the reports, I am amazed by the courage and determination of the First Responders!  It is their job, why not?  But I believe they have a special computer chip, or thread that runs through their inner deep soul structure that says, “WHY NOT! – Why YES, of course.”  So let us remember all who are involved in any way with the good, the bad, and the ugly from this storm.  

Let us pray:

Compassionate God, you are ever mindful of your children and hear our prayers when we cry out to you. We are faced with a disaster, a disaster that rattles our bones and sets our nerves on edge. We truly have nowhere to turn but to your loving and provident arms. 
Listen to our prayers for __________ who are in desperate need for assurance of your presence in their lives at this moment. Inspired by your mercy, may we reach out through acts of kindness and compassion. We ask this in Jesus’ name. (Sisters of St. Francis/Philadelphia)

Our united prayers, grounded in faith, amplify the divine energy surrounding all who are affected, strengthening them to rise above these situations with faith and hope. We affirm that the presence of God is at work in every area of need —providing the people and resources for recovery and rebuilding, uplifting every soul. Let us affirm together for each one:
The light of God surrounds you; The love of God enfolds you;
The power of God protects you; The presence of God watches over you.
Wherever you are, God is!  (UNITY)

“Oh, God, in faith we acknowledge your care over us, your sons, daughters and children. In hope we trust in your divine providence of giving us wisdom and courage as we face the challenges in life. In love we invoke your help and guidance during these difficult days of death and destruction in our dear country.
Our is a prayer of thanksgiving for once again reminding us that ours is an imperfect world, that heaven is not on earth and that nature every now and then tells us not to abuse her. Ours too is a prayer of repentance for calling upon you when we are in need and desperation but forgetting you in favorable times and pleasing occasions. Ours as well is a prayer of petition as we say: Grant eternal peace to those who lost their lives. Embrace the children who died in their innocence. Help those who are hurt and cure those who are sick.
Encourage those who suffer the destruction of their homes and properties, and to once again stand up and rebuild their future.
Bless all those who extend their helping hands to those in need of food, shelter and clothing, who share their time, talents and resources with others.
Inspire more people to be men and women for their neighbors, convinced that the more they are for others, the taller they stand before you.
Spare us please from other natural disasters and devastations if this be according to Your will and for our own spiritual good and growth. Amen."
(Author Unknown)

Taxi cabs line a flooded street in Queens.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Masking our True Selves?

They just had a contest for scariest mask,
And I was the wild and daring one
Who won the contest for scariest mask-
And (sob) I'm not even wearing one.
 by shel silverstein

According to the statistics, the USA spends approximately 9 billion dollars on Halloween candy, costumes, and decorations.  Even our pets are fully costumed along with accessories to the tune of 3-4 million dollars.  This is an eve to celebrate “All Hallows Eve," the day before All Saints Day. 

Background: Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic tribes of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. On October 31, the tribes would celebrate the festival of Samhain. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead -- including ghosts, goblins, and witches -- returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.

Also, the current custom of going door-to-door to collect treats actually started in Ireland hundreds of years ago. Groups of farmers would go door-to-door collecting food and materials for a village feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised prosperity; those who did not received threats of bad luck. When an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States in the 1800s, the custom of trick-or-treating came with them.

So what is the Good News for us at Halloween?
Let us ponder . . .
Do we ever put on masks to hide our true selves?
Do we ever wear masks to present a particular identity or image?
Often Halloween is a time for children and adults to dress up like a character they’d like to be. Who would you like to be if you had a chance to take on the persona of someone else?
All of these “fun ‘n games” are grounded in our faith needs - that is, to scare away evil, and have the courage to stand tall and let our true inner selves come forward without fear, and to call upon all the saints – women, men, and children who have been witnesses of lives lived with integrity, mercy, faith, and forgiveness - to be our companions on our faith journey.

Faith Is . . .

Faith is risking what is for what is yet to be.
It is taking small steps knowing they lead to bigger ones.

Faith is holding on when you want to let go.
It is letting go when you want to hold on.

Faith is saying YES when everything else says NO.
It is believing all things are possible in the midst of impossibilities.

Faith is looking beyond what is  and trusting for what will be.
It is the presence of light in darkness, the presence of God in all.
Ellen M. Cuomo

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blindness and Vision

This Sunday, the story of blind Bartimaeus, Mark 10: 46-52, will be the Gospel selection. During retreats, many people find this reading to be inspiring and challenging for their own lives.  Here are a few thoughts to consider for your own reflection.  

Background:Blindness was a very common disease in Jesus’ day. In Biblical times, blindness was primarily caused by a water duct, located beneath the eyelids, drying up. The water duct under the eyelids became dry and the eyelids became puffy and swollen, as did the eyeballs themselves. This kind of blindness was spread by flies and was aggravated by the hot desert sun and desert sands. It was a highly contagious disease and the only way to contain it was to quarantine the people who had this dreaded blindness. The Jewish people of that era believed that when the Messiah came, the Messiah would heal blindness. The prophet Isaiah said that the Messiah would heal many diseases e.g., the deaf would hear, the lame would walk, the lepers would be cleansed, and the blind would see again. Jesus healed these people of their blindness and these healings were a sign that the Messiah and Messianic age had finally arrived.”

Now as you enter a little more deeply into your own reflection, decide if you want to be part of the crowd or focus on Bartimaeus.  Then enter into the scene and dialog with the crowd or Bartimaeus. Then turn your attention to Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” This may lead to some deeper discoveries of what has be “cloaked” from your own eyes or heart that has caused you  spiritual, emotional, or psychological blindness.  Then, ask Jesus for what you desire as Bartimaeus did: “I want to see.”  Jesus gave him his sight and he followed Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.  What would you do?

Reflect as a member of the crowd:
Have you ever just “gone along with the crowd” and were afraid to take a stand on what you truly believed was right, good and just?
Have you ever been part of a crowd, organization, or system that became “deaf” or “blind” to the needs of the poor or social issues in your community, neighborhoods, or churches?
What are these social issues that cry out for healing?  Here are a few: world hunger, poverty, inequality in health, education, economic needs, drugs, food, global warming/climate change, trafficking of women and children, housing, consumerism, drought, crime, etc.
Have you ever experienced a time of courage, integrity, or hope that empowered you to break loose of your comfort zone and move out of the “go with the flow” mentality?

Reflect as in dialog with Bartimaeus or become Bartimaeus:
To what in your life have you been blind?
What has been your “cloak”? Your identity, job, success, pain, grief, fear, power, money, position?
How might you respond if God were to ask you at this time, “What do you want me to do for you?"  
What will give you the courage to jump up, drop your cloak and to stand “naked” before the eyes of a loving God?
A cry at the side of the road.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can you drink this cup?

This past Sunday the Scriptures had us reflect on the Gospel of Mark 10: 35-45. I share with you some thoughts in light of the recent violence in Milwaukee, WI. 

Dan Berrigan once remarked, “If you want to be Christian, you better look good on wood.”  In Mark’s Gospel, we are met with the challenge that if you want to be a disciple be ready to have your life turned upside down and inside out, and upside out and inside down!  “Discipling” is not an easy process.  It means facing toward Jerusalem with Jesus and letting him be in the lead.  It will always be messy and filled with adversity.

In today’s Gospel we meet James and John, also known as the “Sons of Thunder” or affectionately known as the favored sons of Mr. and Mrs. Zebedee.  These men can be described as enthusiastic, eager, zealous, ambitious, future planners, and they have a strong desire to follow Jesus.  But Jesus finds this time a teachable moment.  He says that “discipling” is not about being first, but it’s about being last.  It’s not about having many possessions, but it’s about letting ourselves be possessed by God. It’s not about having positions of power, authority, and honor.  But it’s about putting on an apron and bending down to wash the feet of another.  And in summary, it’s all about drinking of the cup of suffering – maybe even drinking deeply and sensing God’s passion surge through you!

In my kitchen at home, I have a cupboard with cups of many sizes, textures, shapes, and colors. So then in reflecting further on this Gospel, I invite us to call to mind the many cups that we are presented throughout our lives.

There are cups of compassion, forgiveness, thanksgiving, and blessing.  Can we drink of these cups that are filled with the joyful and sorrowful mysteries that are part of our faith journey?

There are cups of discernment, joy, laughter, friendship, decisions, choices, and beliefs.  Can we drink of these cups knowing that oftentimes we need the gentle support and understanding of another?

Yet, there are more cups that we encounter again and again throughout our short life’s journey:
The cup of transition . . .
The cup of walking in mystery
The cup of embracing our limitations
The cup of letting go
The cup of “what will tomorrow unfold” 
The cup of transformation
The cup of surrender

Henri Nouwen in his book,Can You Drink This Cup?,” suggests three movements, or gestures as to how we might drink from these cups.  The first movement is to HOLD the cup; to welcome it and all its contents into your life. The second movement is to LIFT the cup; to claim all that it holds – the joys, sorrows, surprises, and challenges of our lives.  And the third movement is to DRINK WITH GRATITUDE.  To sip gently as if its contents were a precious liquid.

Henri writes: We have to drink our cup slowly, tasting every mouthful - all the way to the bottom! Living a complete life is drinking our cup until it is empty, trusting that God will fill it with everlasting life.”

So what is the Good News for us this week?
Let us be aware of the many cups that are presented to us this week.
Can we hold the cup that is presented to us and welcome it?
Can we lift the cup that is presented us and claim its mysteries?
And can we drink deeply with gratitude of the cups presented us through the activities and sharings  of our lives this week?

Jesus asked, “Are you sure you are capable of drinking the cup that I shall drink?”  And the disciples replied, “Sure, why not!”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Rainy Day Reflection

Psalm  127
(Translation from The Message by Eugene Peterson)

If God does not build the house, 
the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn't guard the city,
the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early
and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know God enjoys
giving rest to those God loves?

Matthew 10: 8 – 10  
(Translation from The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:  “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers.  And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy.  Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.  Tell them that the kingdom is here.  Bring health to the sick.  Raise the dead.  Touch the untouchables.  Kick out the demons.  You have been treated generously, so live generously.
Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start.  You don’t need a lot of equipment.  YOU are the equipment and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day.  Travel light.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Passion on the bus, in the skies, and under glaciers!!

A call is passion, desire, and choice, all rolled into one. ~John P. Schuster~

This week we have observed people with passion, purpose, desire, and choice and vicariously participated in their stories of call!

Who cannot forget the breath-taking views of Felix Baumgartner, who desired to break the sound barrier by jumping from a capsule attached to a massive balloon miles above Earth. For over four minutes he flipped ‘n flopped, jigged ‘n jogged, zigged ‘n zagged,  twisted ‘n turned - all short of being turned inside out until he was able to control his speed of 870 mph. Then upon opening his shoot, he gracefully landed on his feet after dropping 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth.

This week on Bill Moyers, we were introduced to James Balog - one of the world’s premier nature photographers, author, and “prophet.” Bill has a poignant interview with James to speak about the tragic thinning of the glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and other northern areas.  James tells of how he set up time-lapse cameras to photograph the ongoing retreating of the glacier ice sheets. In November, Balog’s film, Chasing Ice,  a breathtaking account of climate change in action, will be released.

And let us finally recall the images of the Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl with a strong voice, a courageous heart, and a deep desire for girls in her village to have the benefit of being educated; she wants to be a doctor – and desires possibilities for all girls and women in her village. “The shooting of Malala Yousufzai along with two classmates while they were on their way home from school Tuesday horrified people in Pakistan and internationally. It has been followed by an outpouring of support for a girl who earned the enmity of the Taliban for publicizing their acts and speaking about the importance of education for girls.”

Why do people do these feats of passion, desire, courage, and choice?  Because they cannot not do them.  We could say that it is already programmed in their DNA!  They listen to a different drummer; are willing to swim upstream; eager to go beyond the box, have a stance of ready-set-go so as to take risks in the present to make change happen in the future; are never satisfied with the status quo so they promote creativity, and innovation, and have BIG COURAGE to be who they are called to be. Thomas Merton puts this search for passion, purpose, and call to be one’s true Self in these poetic words:

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true Self. Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like, since God alone possesses the secret of my identity; God alone can make me who I am or rather, God alone can make me who I will be when I at last fully begin to be.”

Let us pray: 
“I will not die an unlived life; I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.  I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.  I choose to risk my significance to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”
~Dawna Markova!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Meet Doctor Teresa!

Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens 
On October 15, the feast of St. Teresa of Avila will be observed in certain Catholic-Christian and Carmelite circles.  As Theresa of Lisieux referred to herself as the “little flower of Jesus," I suppose Teresa of Avila could be considered  the “Big Flower” or “Super Flower” of Jesus!   She was a giant at the time she lived in the 16th century and her presence and force is still with us today!

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) “is one of the most beloved spiritual figures in history . . . she is known around the world as a great mystic, saint, reformer” and the first woman to be named Doctor of the Church!!  After a special vision, she was moved to reform the Carmelite order. She founded the community known as the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites in Avila.  “The sisters wore hemp sandals, but their name referred to the strict poverty that was a feature of Teresa’s reform.” 

She was the foundress of 17 Carmel convents, the author of four books, and considered one of the outstanding religious teachers of Christian prayer.  She was known to have a charismatic personality, along with wisdom and courage that was deeply rooted in a special love relationship with God.

Throughout her life, she suffered from migraine headaches, and other physical ailments, and experienced dryness in prayer for much of her life. However, it is also written that Teresa had the privilege of hearing God speak to her. She also began to see visions and Jesuit and Dominican priests came to see if this was true. They were convinced and declared that the visions were holy and authentic.  

In accounts of her life, it is said that when she would move into a prayerful ecstasy, there were always a couple of sisters that were appointed to hold onto the hem of her habit so that as she was lifted up in prayerful rapture, she wouldn't injure herself. 

There also is the great story told of her on her travels where she encountered all the hazards of donkey carts which was one of the means of transportation of her time.  “One time her cart overturned, throwing her into a muddy river.  When she complained to God about this ordeal, she heard a voice from within her say, ‘This is how I treat my friends.’ “Yes, my Lord,” she answered, “and that is why you have so few of them.”

There is so much that could be written here of Teresa, but I will provide links for you to visit and enjoy.  Among these links will be one of the Carmel convents at Terre Haute, IN where you can get a glimpse into the life of cloistered Carmelite sisters.   Terre Haute, IN Carmel convent

Prayers of Teresa:

Christ Has No Body 
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

+ + +
May today there be peace within.  May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.  May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.  May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.  May you be content knowing you are a child of God.  Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.  It is there for each and every one of us.

+ + +
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Walking Into Discernment

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

1. I walk down the street. 
  • There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
  • I fall in.
  • I am lost — I am helpless.
  • It isn't my fault.
  • t takes forever to find a way out. 
2. I walk down the same street.
  • There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
  • I pretend I don't see it.
  • I fall in again.
  • I can't believe I'm in the same place.
  • But it isn't my fault.
  • It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the same street. 
  • There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
  • I see it is there.
  • I still fall in — it's a habit.
  • My eyes are open.
  • I know where I am.
  • It is MY fault.
  • I get out immediately. 
4. I walk down the same street. 
  • There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
  • I walk around it. 
5. I walk down a DIFFERENT street. 


Did you ever find yourself minding your own business when something shifted in your life? 
Did you sense an invitation to change your way of living or thinking?
Did you ever encounter a challenge to reach beyond your “comfort zone” which surprised you on your routine route? 
Have you ever found yourself ignoring or denying the need to let go of frustrations, anxiety, anger, or unhealthy attachments? After experiencing a number of realities that were challenging, did you wake up to the fact that maybe it’s time to notice patterns of behaviors, thoughts, desires, or attitudes which no longer serve you as life-giving choices? 
Have you ever discovered old patterns that kept you falling into holes of psychological or spiritual emptiness? 
Did you notice your growth in awareness that you can change and make personal choices to avoid places, people, and experiences that keep you from being your best self? 

Choosing to take on a different route can be monumental, but all of these challenges call for grit, grace, and guts. This is all part of the discernment process as well. It is so essential to develop a realistic sense of who you are as you walk down the sidewalk of life. Possibly the shift you sense within is calling you to consider living a religious lifestyle. What will it mean to step into this search and adventure? Are you willing to go down another street to seek out new questions, new answers, new dreams, and new possibilities? The best thing to do when you find yourself at the corner of “walk and don’t walk” is to contact a vocation director or spiritual director who will offer you a “Trip Tik” that will assist you in this blurry-clear journey!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Baskets of Worries!

As I watch out my office window, the farmer has come with his large pieces of equipment to cut and harvest the acres of soybeans that have survived our summer drought.  Now the deer, wild turkeys, and Canadian Geese make their way to these fields to munch on the “12 (or more) baskets of leftovers.”  However, I wonder how that farmer will feed his animals and pay his bills over the next months?  No doubt he worries.

This leads me to reflect on the symbol of the Worry Basket in the Native American cultures. It is known that in some Native American cultures, you were not allowed to bring your worries into the household of another person.  It was considered improper to enter with negativity within your spirit.  So many homes had “worry baskets” outside their homes and you would place your worries in the basket to rest before you entered the home.

Some Native Americans had Burden Baskets which hung by a strap across their foreheads and down their backs. The baskets were in cone shape – probably a prototype to the first backpack! Again, after collecting items of foods, etc., for her family, the woman would hang the basket by the entrance of their home.  Then if visitors came,  they waited outside for an invitation to come in; if they were not invited in, they left not offended, but understanding that it was not a good time for a visit.  If they were invited in, they were expected to deposit their troubles in the basket so the visit would be pleasant and the conversation would not be mixed with bad feelings.

There are also Worry Dolls from Guatemala.  It is said that if children could not sleep because they held worries or fears, then they were given Worry Dolls to tell their worries to and then the dolls were put under their pillows.  The dolls would hold their worries and carry them away.  Sometimes the parents would come and remove the dolls - to which the child upon rising the next morning would be refreshed because the dolls had taken their worries away.

This is a time of great worry in our world, in our families, and deep within our Selves – unrest in politics, governments, serious issues from our planet, such as, global warming, lack or resources for peoples because of droughts, famines, fires, floods - poverty, scarcity of food and water, drug wars, violence, and so much more – to name only a few of the uncertainties, anxieties and fears that cause many of us to be “wobbly” within because of worry.

Recently I heard someone speak about God’s sacred heart.  Maybe this is God’s burden basket that is offered moment by moment to all of us to place our worries, fears, and concerns within for God to hold for us – And while they are held within God’s loving heart, they are transformed. We just have to keep learning how to let go of the control and grow in our trust, hope, mercy, and love

Two Days We Should Not Worry  (Author Unknown)
There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension. One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.  We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said.  Yesterday is gone forever.
The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance; Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control. Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.
This leaves only one day, Today.  Any person can fight the battle of just one day.  It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.
It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad, it is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring. Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.

The Worry Tree!
The Carpenter I hired to help me restore and old farmhouse had just finished a rough first day on the job. A flat tire made him lose an hour of work, his electric saw quit, and now his ancient pickup truck refused to start. While I drove him home, he sat in stony silence. 

On arriving, he invited me in to meet his family. As we walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands. When opening the door, he underwent an amazing transformation. His tanned face wreathed in smiles and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.

Afterward he walked me to the car. We passed the tree and my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him about what I had seen him do earlier.

"Oh, that's my trouble tree", he replied. "I know I can't help having troubles on the job, but one thing for sure, troubles don't belong in the house with my wife and the children. So I just hang them on the tree every night when I come home. Then in the morning I pick them up again."

"Funny thing is", he smiled, "when I come out in the morning to pick 'em up, there ain't nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before."
Author unknown 

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Fool for Christ's Sake

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)

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 . . .”