I had a meeting with Bishop Sauls last week – preparing the Easter Service w/ Confirmations. So I schlepped down to the Cathedral to meet him – on the day after the most recent mass murders of our children. To say I had little if any enthusiasm for the trip or the planning session is a gross understatement. But then in those darkest moments, grace intervenes!
Now I have been taking the subways by myself since before I was a teenager, but in all those decades, this is only the second time I have witnessed this miracle.
On our #1 downtown Broadway local car, there was this young girl – a street kid – a teen whom Dickens might have described as a waif. She had that “far away stare” of someone who has seen (or done) too much for her years. She had eyes of ice blue and wore handed-on clothes. She kept her distance and yet invited conversation. She admitted she is hungry, needed money or food. She knows about homeless shelters and that’s why she avoids them! She would sing one song for everyone, and if you could help her, please do. Then she also said that she was singing not only for the kids who died in Florida yesterday but for all the ones “who avoided the bullets this time but are gonna die the next time.”
If I say her voice was powerful but angelic, you will dismiss this account as fiction. But it was. She sang: “God bless the child” better than I have ever heard! She ripped a hole through my soul.
I wear a clerical collar – and people on subways watch what clergy do: and usually they shake their heads and scoff at us for being fools. I gave her the sandwich I had bought for myself for later. Others stepped up and gave her either money or food (mostly fruit or granola bars). She was gracious and grateful. One stop later the doors opened and she disappeared.
I have seen folks take a moment to be gracious and helpful. I have seen an instant where the color of skin, the difference of gender, the isolation of age or the insistence of political rightness of my view counted for nothing. There was a need and people responded. There was a voice and folks were mesmerized. Why does it take a tragedy for the barriers to come down for even an instant? Was she the lost soul among us – or are we the lost around her?
– Fr. Joe
Has anyone ever taken a hard look at the “facts,” legends or traditions we seem to put our faith in? Question the usefulness of such a “fact,” and one might be branded either heretic or “you’re no fun at all.”
A week ago, sophisticated and educated humans descended upon innocent life forms such as gophers, groundhogs, etc., focused intense camera lighting upon them, picked them up without their permission, thank you very much, and infallibly declared that the predetermined outcome (seeing the creature’s shadow) will have meteorological consequences for determining the onset of Spring! Although I have not seen this other “scientific” experiment recently, there is allegedly a captive octopus or squid at some university that has a higher percentage of picking both Super Bowl and Presidential Election winners than the gambling elite of Las Vegas who do so for a living! And do you believe in the chicken who allegedly can tap out the tune of our national anthem on a keyboard – (the Opening ritual of Puppy Bowl XIV)?
I’ve been told that people need something “to believe in” – even when logic dictates that the event or “truth” never happened or at times is downright silly. And I get that. Our lives are becoming so frenzied and hectic that we’d like to have some stable element that anchors us.
And why not? We can all use a silly tradition or three to put, if not our “faith,” then at least our feelings in! What I find so curious is that for a culture that has so many questionable things to believe in (UFO’s have landed and their inhabitants now own stock in New Mexico; reality TV is actually real; only my political party tells the truth; our best days are behind us – whatever myth you firmly hold), we deem ourselves either too busy, involved, educated or exhausted to believe in the one Being – who is life … who is BEING and who desperately wants to have a place in our lives. Take God out of our lives, and humans will replace God with other idols in which to put their faith. Kind of goes back to a question I’ve posed before: In whom do you trust? Whom do you serve? Who do you believe loves you? What do you believe in and if not Our Lord, then how is that working for you?
On Sunday, a few of you commented that you never received last week’s “Reflection.” I know it was written and set up to be sent. Many of you might have received it on Monday. For reasons we don’t quite understand, the program believed that the reflection should go into the “draft – unfinished” folder rather than the “to be sent” folder – in spite of the fact that every usual and normal procedure was followed. Our technology “hiccupped.”
We 21st century folk tend to put so much trust in our technology – dare I say that we all too often put “faith” in our technology. In an era that scoffs at any faith in God, we put so much faith in our iphones, our computers, the net, social media, all our technological advances in medicine, science, law and, of course, weaponry.
We trust our systems and yet over a week ago, pressing one wrong button (switch, lever, keystroke – does it really matter?) could have brought us all into World War III – a false report of an inbound missile. We make our plans concerning winter driving safety based on the accuracy of forecasts – but how often this winter have those forecasts been fuzzy and iffy – leaving us virtually unprepared for what is to come. Because we are so busy, we tend to communicate via texts and emails – which often go unread because we have hundreds of them clogging our in-box. Therefore, instantaneous non-communication is the basis for our staying in touch. Don’t even get me started how it has been demonstrated too many times that people tend to say harsher, nastier or more untrue things in a text or tweet than they would face-to-face. Nor does a written text always convey the tone (light vs. serious; ironic vs. literal) of what is being said.
Now look: I marvel at the things we humans can accomplish and create when such is for the good. I wish I were more tech savvy. But the creative work of human hands does not always lead to fulfillment or happiness. The Book of Genesis teaches a story intended to be both humorous and serious. A bunch of powerful creative guys (and yes, this time “men” means “men” so you women are off the hook!) were basking in their testosterone and essentially declared: we’re great! Let’s show all humanity and history how great we are. Let’s build a huge city and center it with a tower that touches the very face of god in the heavens. Even god(s) will know how much we can do on our own. Go back and read “the rest of the story.” How well did that turn out for them? Be careful in whom or what you put your faith!!!!!
I’ve often made use of Abby, our border collie, as a teacher. I think we had another one of those moments this morning. A border collie, driven by instinct and force of will, seems to have within this unquenchable fire to find herself a flock and herd them. As we have so many deer, foxes or feral cats who seem to run through our yard (and leave imprints in the snow), Abby naturally has been sniffing her way up one side or down the other of most of the trails and embankments around the clergy residence trying to find those whom she should herd and protect!
But this morning, I guided her away from the normal paths (trod upon by the “usual suspects”) and guess what? She went flying through the fresh untouched snow with only the desire to find a new path, seek out fresh scents to sniff and boldly go where no dog has gone before!
As you begin 2018, take a few moments from your regular routine. Instead of centering on (and complaining about) the bitter cold, the freezing rain or the perpetually gray skies, seek out some untouched path – not necessarily literally but symbolically! Where can you “go” or explore or “do” that you have never gone, explored or done before? Christian mystics might phrase it this way: sometimes God calls you to walk in new directions and seek God in different places. So as we enter a new year, is there a new direction you might consider? Is there a new project you might begin? Is there a change in your life’s direction that might be ahead of you?
I can tell you that from watching Abby, it is such an important thing to do from time to time.
– Fr. Joe
We’ve finally left 2017 behind us, and now we approach, with hope, a new span of time – a new year – to mark our journey. With more than one major life-changing medical procedure, the sadness of witnessing two of our family members deal with serious marriage issues, the (at least) inconvenience of moving the residence, the moving away of a few parish members who will truly be missed, the constant influx of anger-filled news (real or fake – I guess that depends on whose truth you choose to believe) as well as the realization that “truth” itself is no longer an objective reality but depends upon one’s choice of political philosophy, the reality that the Korean “police action” of the early 1950’s may be heading for renewal, and this time with the possibility of nuclear weapons, the reopening of so many wounds fed by subtle (or at times not-so-subtle) racism, the uncomfortable realities that the “me too” movement has brought to the surface (and before anyone challenges the utility of 40+ year old memories, please ask yourself if you would not listen to any woman accuser if she were your daughter, your sister or your mom?) – O yeah 2017 was a year I am ever so glad to see the back of.
So what do I hope for in 2018? I hope for a nation whose leaders might re-learn how to listen to rather than talk at each other. I would love to see a culture where the “social” in social media was truly indicative of our willingness to communicate with, share and even uplift each other rather than an exercise is narcissism and cowardly name-calling and shaming. I would love to see us as a church community truly live as persons of faith and commitment. We are supposed to be members in a “Jesus movement” that began 2000 years ago. We’ve a long way to go if we truly want to be persons who love, give and forgive as Jesus does! I long for the sentiments expressed in our Christmas carols to become a reality each and every day of 2018. May your New Year’s wishes also be granted!!
For this last reflection in 2017 (yes, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” will resume in 2018), I am neither going to create a Christmas message that oozes with “sweetness and light” because, frankly, it’s not reality. Nor will I play the role of a crude Mr. Scrooge and give you all a “bah humbug” since the power of Jesus and what we celebrate at the Feast of the Incarnation is so wonderful that I refuse to play the role of cantankerous curmudgeon!
But my friends, my sisters and brothers, let’s keep focused on what is terribly and truly important: the “message” of Christmas is the Message of Easter! This fact of remembering that God chose to become enfleshed in a human body and thus into human history is a call to remember that every aspect of the Christmas story points to a deeper reality marking the greatest mystery of all: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus for our Salvation.
Don’t forget that a child born into poverty and for whom no one would share hospitality prefigured a time when a popular peasant preacher would be turned on by the crowd of supposed followers and abandoned by his own. And who stepped up to shelter him then? And just as the machinations of a corrupt emperor forces a young family to migrate to be registered, so the decisions of a corrupt Procurator will bring about this child’s death as an adult. As the baby would be laid to rest and bound on to a wooden feeding trough (“manger”), so one day he would be bound to another harsher piece of wood (“cross”).
But never forget that if the place of his birth is seen as a CAVE where no one human should be (only animals hung out there), so his intended final resting place (another cave) would become the site of mystery and light, redemption and reconciliation: from that cave would emerge He who IS the way, truth and LIFE. Born in a cave / resurrected from a cave.
And finally, in both cases, those who are totally “other” than we – call them “angels,” call them messengers of the Divine – proclaim the Good News. The announcement to Shepherds of the child’s birth (“Today is born for you a Savior”) and to the women who had come to anoint his broken dead body at the empty tomb (“He is not here. He is risen.”) is the same message: Do NOT be afraid! Be at PEACE. REJOICE. Your God is greater than human evil. And God’s “redeeming grace” is far more powerful than human tragedy.
Please don’t forget what we celebrate each Christmas: A memory of Jesus that prefigures His (and our) most important moment. And don’t forget that no matter the darkness of our world, that He has been born for us, and lived for us, and taught us, and died for us and rose from the dead to give us life. And what better gift could we possibly need or be given this or any season of the year!