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!
I have to tell you that I was slightly taken back by the response I got to a posting over a week ago when I reflected on the meaning of the upcoming liturgical season of Advent. Unlike a different era, we’re not asked to “repent” during this season prior to Christmas as though this were a mini-Lent. But we are asked, as Christians, to do something that, in our time, might be far more difficult: “…to wait in HOPE for the coming of our savior Jesus Christ.”
Hope is surely a difficult mindset to have or a virtue to live out in an era where anger, hate, intolerance, abuse, and indifference to the voiceless are considered “normal.” Oh we have our selective outrages. It’s taken decades for women’s voices to be heard on matters of sexual misconduct, and yet I can’t help wondering if eventually such outrages will just be accepted as part of being a “grown up” in the modern world. We accept violence, don’t we? Whether it’s a black church in Charleston or a mosque in Cairo, a concert in Vegas or riding your bike in Manhattan – there is no place immune from the impact of human sinfulness and darkness. That’s just what we are and what we do, isn’t it?
At this time of the liturgical year, the sacred texts of our Christian tradition challenge us to live in the face of such darkness as lights in that darkness. Advent reminds us that there is no issue, no force, no philosophy, no attitude, no theological speculation that cannot be critically examined, challenged or eventually healed by the all-powerful love and mercy of our God. I live in hope because in my heart I know that our God is greater than all the darkness that humankind can muster. I live in hope because the one whose name means “God saves” has been born for us, and because of His light, we are enlightened and empowered to enlighten others. When I am at my moodiest and most given to despair for us as a species, I live in hope. I “hope” you are able to do so as well. – Fr. Joe
On Sunday past, reflecting on the notion of being stewards of our lives, I commented (and you all know this in your hearts) that none of us knows how much time we’ve been given to do the work that God has given us to do. I told you a Campo family story – the death of my dad in such a sudden and instantaneous fashion. “You know not the day nor the hour” Jesus warned.
And later that afternoon, we were all glued to whatever electronic media that was available as we, yet again, saw the aftermath of violence in our country. A man walks into a church with a gun! This is NOT the beginning of a joke. It is becoming more and more a regular part of our culture and our nation’s story.
With sadness, I am just going to repeat myself. I won’t be drawn into the debate about whether this a mental health issue or a gun lobby issue. No one wants to listen to anyone who believes it is a “both / and” and not an “either / or” issue. The evidence in front of me seems to indicate that all we’ll end up doing is wringing our hands and arguing our points and nothing will change and nothing will get done… again!
So the preacher in me shares a message for you. I’m not sure when or even if those with the power to confront this issue will ever do so. All I can do is let the tragedy speak to me, and hopefully to you. You really do not know how much time you have to do the work you’ve been given to do. You’ve been given talents and gifts to build up Christ’s body, the Church, as well as bring the love of God into whatever small corner of the world you inhabit. You’re called to be a spouse, a lover, a friend, a parent, a child, a worker, a student. We’re all to be an example to others and a friend for others. We’re all called to be there for each other and build up one another. We’re called to be a voice that speaks when words are needed and an ear to listen when someone else needs to unburden his/her soul.
God alone knows how much time we have to do the work we’ve been given to do. How are you using that time?
Can you believe that it is already November? The year of 2017 is in its twilight! We’ve experienced a year of political as well as meteorological turbulence. We can now just about presume that anything a person has ever said or done in their past will assuredly have offended someone at some time, and yet even in such a climate, you still have folks who continue to speak and/or act in ways intended to demean or abuse others – and then, of course, utter the required “mea culpa’s” that no one believes anyway! Our culture is fractured. The place of humans at the top of the food chain may well be in jeopardy if those who have the power to unleash nuclear war actually decide to do so. Nature’s fury has been experienced this year in ways that should humble human arrogance, and there are still those (the poorest of the poor) who continue to suffer the aftermaths of storm upon storm.
However, Christians are empowered to be people of HOPE. The end of this month brings not merely the termination of the liturgical cycle, but the beginnings of the New Year. Advent points beyond itself and reminds us that humankind’s Savior, whose words and grace are so desperately needed to be felt again, has already come. Our lives do not have to reflect the deep darkness of November mornings or the daytime gray of its skies. We are the fools (for Christ’s sake) who believe that the light of God’s goodness is greater than all the forces of evil or nature that fight against it.
In the show The Student Prince, there is that melody that begins: “I’ll walk with God, from this day on…” As I write this on a stormy Sunday (eerily five years to the day after another storm battered us), just let me remind each of you that no matter the issues, the darkness, the challenges, the political stupidity, the evil or sin that we humans (or nature itself) might create, as challenging as 2017 has been for so many of us, we do not walk alone if we walk by faith!