I believe we’ve been experiencing one of the theological reminders that while we’ve been redeemed in and through Christ, we are certainly not yet perfected. In fact, we seem to display our flawed human nature in so many varied, public and even unintended ways.
A U. S. senator, now suffering from cancer who was a former P.O.W. and failed presidential candidate, is now lauded for being such a fighter and man of conviction by those who did mock and dislike him both politically and personally. Is it guilt that makes us speak well of those who are seriously sick or some foolish belief that if I say or do something “nice” about someone whom I dislike, God has to even the scales and think better of me. A bit hypocritical, you think?
A former football star who was the center of a sensational murder trial decades ago, who may have gotten away with murder but whom we must hold to be legally not guilty as judged by his peers, becomes the center of a media circus once again as his parole board hearing (for a totally different crime of which he actually was convicted) becomes the TV event of the summer. What makes this individual worthy of such attention more than any of these other men or women who had the same board review that day? What is it about “us” that makes this “must-see-TV” (that’s the media’s term, not mine).
For that matter, how many of us have endured a “rubber necking” delay on any road because of the need to gawk at possible accident victims in the opposite lane. (Trust me: you really do NOT want to see what a human body looks like when car and tree collide!!)
This is NOT about being a tired curmudgeon seeking to grumble about human nature.
These past few days have allowed me to reflect about how much more we all need to grow spiritually closer to the Lord. And in doing so, perhaps we actually speak more kindly to folks while they are with us and not only when they may be dying. Perhaps we can refuse to allow any media circus to overfeed us with the nonsense that fills our airwaves and cables by taking more time to NOT watch TV and spend more time with the persons we love – maybe even talking with them! Maybe even in this frenzied 21st century, as we are so over-scheduled and rushing about, we can learn to take some time to spend with God and also with each other, to renew ourselves in body and spirit, to focus on the good and not merely the bad in others, and to stop wasting so much time and energy over things that, in the end, may not be all that important.
As many of you know, seven (7) young people from this parish participated in the Appalachian Service Project (“ASP”) earlier this summer. They went down to Virginia to serve God’s poor as they participated in work projects of home repair. Upon their return I emailed them and asked if they would not mind sharing some of their experiences, and also, would they share what they might have learned from this experience. On Sunday morning July 9, four of them addressed our congregation and spoke from the heart.
I am going to share with you (although I will respect their privacy and withhold the writer’s name) written reflections from some. Please note that the four email excerpts you are about to read do NOT necessarily come from the same four teens who spoke – in fact they do not. But I thought you would find the reflections of our own teenagers to be food for the spirit as well as thought.
|Hey Fr. Joe. The trip was amazing and I learned so much from it. Not only did I make new friends within ASP but also friends with the family I worked with. My family was so nice and I loved spending time with them. Their life was so different compared to us. I wish I could have stayed down there for longer and helped the family more and also gotten to spend more time with them. But the time that I did spend with them will stay with me forever. ….
| Hi Fr. Joe: Sorry this is late. I started work this past week and have had a pretty busy schedule but just wanted to pop in and say ASP was incredible. It was a truly eye opening experience and I learned so much more about the country we’re in and the state of it. I also got to meet so many lovely people, both from Bland County and Westchester. It was really powerful and moving and I’m so glad I went……
| So I guess the biggest thing that I learned during the trip was that everyone had a story. The family that I had worked with had some of the most love for each other I had ever seen, but also had gone through the hardest situations in life. They had lived in Chicago when MLK Jr. was assassinated, and their house was completely destroyed by the riots. The father of my home owner had been in the Korean War. My home owner has had 30+ surgeries in the past year. A flesh eating disease, nerve damage in his left hand, acid burns on his legs, suicidal thoughts, and is the nicest person I have ever met. His family has battled cancer, poverty, destruction and disease, and yet are the greatest family I have ever met. That’s the lesson that I learned this week, is that there is always hope in love.
| Hi Father Joe, … I had an amazing time on ASP (as usual). My group did flooring in a house all week, which was a first for me. We stayed at an old bible camp in Virginia which was super fun, and I met tons of new people. All the families were amazing…
I would add one final thought: to do as they did and learn from their experience, our parish youth are also amazing.
Yesterday (July 5) is an anniversary of no particular significance to anyone except JoAnne and me and the 33 other folks who happened to be in the right place at the right time to experience the greatness of God and the utter tiny insignificance of us humans.
More than two decades ago, JoAnne and I spent the July 4th holiday in Boston to breathe in the atmosphere of independence in the context of where such revolution began. But before we left, simply on a whim, in the midst of a hot (upper 90’s) and sticky “day after,” we signed on to a Whale Watch, and traveled about 25 miles out into the “perfect storm” waters of the Atlantic. What we experienced was, for me, life-changing.
I have often preached about the greatness of our God and the awesome power God exhibits. I know from the teachings of many churches that we have a duty to conserve and protect life and nature. St. Francis of Assisi (who is “owned” by no one church) often reflected such thoughts in his prayer and poetry. But to be on a not exactly “small” tour ship in the midst of a pod of whales that just happened to come our way was truly breathtaking and spiritually enriching. To have what was described as a “young one” glide up to our boat and dwarf us (like a hand enclosing around a peach), to gaze into eyes that were larger than my entire body and looking right into me was humbling. I have never felt so small!
We watched them play. We watched them do that dive-into-the-air and slam-into-the-sea thing they do so well. We heard them call to one another (and to us?) as they swam off. We smelled their breath through the blowholes. (Yuck – really nasty fishy breath … but what else would it be?) And somewhere in my soul, I heard the reminder of our God that we have been given responsibility to care for all God’s creatures and this world of ours.
Just wanted to take a summer’s day to remind any and all who read this that, as disciples of Jesus, we’ve been given a mandate to care for “this fragile earth, our island home.” (Eucharistic Prayer C) From supporting issues that protect our environment, to adopting the unwanted pets that our culture seems to deem disposable and “throw away,” to cleaning up our grounds and never littering, to recycling, to supporting life and quality of life for all God’s creatures – just a reminder that these are not political issues owned by one party or philosophy. These are responsibilities that we, as children of God, have towards all the other creatures with whom we share the space that God once called “good.” (Gen. 1:2)
– Fr. Joe