– Fr. Joe
– Fr. Joe
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!!
How “important” are any of us? When the school year begins, for a few idyllic moments, I have this illusion that I “am exalted in the eyes of men” (to misquote scripture). People are back from summer travels, and there are numerous parishioners in the pews worshipping and actually listening to my preaching. Then afterwards, of course, one listens to the deflating complaints about why this or that idea “just won’t work” and I am back down to my usual self. .. or .. I fulfill my commitment to teach the course in Church Law at the seminary on Wednesdays, get addressed by students as “professor” (with the inflated ego that comes with this moment), and then find, as an adjunct, I am relegated to a “classroom” the size of the trunk in a sub-compact car but with a broken a/c hanging from the window and other windows that only open high enough to let in flies and bees but no air! Lest I begin to think that I am “important.”
But the message of Jesus is exactly the opposite of my more humbling experiences: you and I are that important – in God’s eyes. The message of last Sunday: no matter how insignificant or foolish, no matter how many bad decisions we might make, no matter how often we do not live into our baptism vows but choose darkness rather than light, no matter how many times we “screw up,” the One whom Jesus called “Father” will always seek us out and welcome us home. It matters not how others think of you: in God’s eyes, you are of inestimable value. Every one of us at times in our lives has been that “lost” sheep or coin. As unimportant as we are through the lens of human experience, never forget that you are of infinite value to the One who redeemed you and calls you my “sister” or “brother.”
The pictures of the earthquake that hammered Italy last week brought back a flood of memories and thoughts. As a student in Rome between 1971-75, would you be shocked if I revealed that often were the days when, in spite of a possible conflict with a scheduled lecture at the university, I would “escape” on a primitive inter-city bus and journey into one of these picturesque villages and take in the local culture, dialect, architecture and, of course, the bread, cheese and wine. I have walked in piazzas (town squares) that today are no more.
We think that what we have will always be, but in a heartbeat, it can be taken away. Life can change so quickly, for good or ill. In the span of one 1-minute phone call, I went from a son to an “executor” of mom’s estate. In the span of another phone call yesterday morning, I now know my brother must face very serious surgery but possesses a body that cannot endure such a procedure. All you think you have can change in a moment!
This is a reflection that I hope will make you both appreciate and ponder. Look at the relationships you are blessed with. Are you grateful and do you show it? Note the blessings you have received in life, do you sincerely give thanks to our loving God who has blessed you so? Are you truly appreciative for all you have received and are you willing to share with those who have so much less? Do you take to heart that life is a journey, and that any point on that trek it is merely that – only one stop. Change, for good or ill, marks our existence, and will do so subtly, lovingly or with the fury of an earthquake (even sometimes literally). What you think you own is just yours to use, for a while.
So there is a reason I often ask you to pray for us as a church community. Pray about the changes that will come, whether we plan them or not. Pray for our sisters and brothers in this parish for we don’t know how long any person journeys with us. Pray that we always keep before us the vocation we have been given. Pray that with the Spirit’s guidance and help, we live into our calling to make Christ present to the world and we are grateful for all we have and for every thing and person given to us.
As the last bit of my “summer” (i.e., relaxed and not intended for any course or program) reading, I am rereading sections of a liturgical text that I first read decades ago. The author had a humorous but truthful point: nothing is so solid and “unchangeable” as the way we worship, and that as far back as the 4th century, it was discovered that the only way to introduce “change” into liturgy without having full blown warfare (whether in a parish among parishioners or in the Church universal among Bishops) is to “add” new things on to what is already there. Eventually the “new” becomes, in the mindset of that community, what we’ve always done.
As much as we pay lip service to the contrary, it has been my experience that humans abhor change. We know what works, why mess with it. (“If it aint broke…etc.”). And, of course, there is a level of comfort when we do things in familiar ways.
While this is almost a “sin” for any parish to consider, I believe that parishes need to be open to hear different voices, try different ways of doing things, be open to different ideas, different music at liturgy, different ways to preach and teach, create different emphases, be willing to make mistakes – all without the sacred mantra “but we’ve never done it that way.”
The more I experience how our secular culture is becoming more adamant that it wants nothing to do with us, then I believe that how we live, and teach, and raise our children, and worship is going to change – if we are going to in fact reach others and bring them into the joy that Christ alone gives. I’m watching this happen on our Diocesan level. It will also begin to happen to us on a local level. We will find ourselves making changes, and the gospel will be communicated in a different way to different folks. Our community will probably change in its makeup. And through it all, God will be praised.
This coming Sunday we’ll all endure the loss of sleep ritual known as returning to “Daylight Savings Time.” So we set our clocks ahead an hour but never really retrieve that lost hour of sleep – not really!
Again this works, for me, as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual renewal going on within ourselves and also regarding the renewal of our parish. Things will always happen to take “time” away from us, and we never have enough “time” to do everything we suspect we ought to be doing. (Perhaps we need take more seriously the words of the Confession of Sin: “… for what I have done and for what I have left undone …”).
We lose an hour of sleep – oh well. We lose a chance to invite someone to share our worship with us, or an opportunity to truly model the Good News of Christ in front of our kids, or even to exercise one of the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting or “almsgiving.” We lose a moment to grow spiritually or to enhance our parish community with some soul who may be seeking God – that moment is lost. Forever! Lent is always about time – and what we do with it!
For me, November is that month that should remind us that “time” (especially the “life” we’re given to make something of our lives) is so short. Last week I was reminded of this when I was asked to officiate at a funeral of someone who had died unexpectedly and accidentally: all the “time” family assumed they would spend together – now ended.
As I wrote in last Thursday’s Reflection, these next two Sundays mark the end of the liturgical year. Christians are asked to focus on the fact that all time, all life, is fragile, limited and ultimately in God’s hands, not ours. Even yesterday, November 11 (Veterans’ Day) we should have paused and remembered that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the “Guns of August” were silenced for a time. World War I (“the war to end all wars” – what a sad joke that was) had stopped. The lives of so many snuffed out in what simply ended up being the opening chapter of yet another and more devastating war.
November is a month for taking stock. Our life is a gift from God and it is brief. So little time! (“…all time is in [God’s] hands”). A life lived without faith in or love of God and others is shallow. A life that does not know hope as a sign of the coming of Christ’s Kingship is a meaningless journey “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Without a relationship with the Lord, life promises to be headed to an “undiscovered kingdom” that is cold, gray, sad and ultimately meaningless. What are you doing with the “time” you’ve been given?
As you all know (and the commuters on Thursday / Friday will certainly know this because travel into and within NYC will be a nightmare), Pope Francis is in the USA to speak to the United Nations and to make a pastoral visit to the members of the Roman Catholic Communion in NY, Philadelphia and Washington. He will bring a message that the news media is amazingly discovering as one of a call to love and serve the poor – that to be a Christian is to be a servant.
No offense to those in the media, but news flash: this message has always been at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus. “The Son of Man has come, not to be served but to serve.” Service to others is the heart of the Christian message. I believe God is calling this parish to something special in terms of service to the “underclass” of our culture. I have heard a number of suggestions about what we should be doing now that the Carpenter’s Kids Program is over. Stay tuned: I believe the Lord is about to call us to be more and to love more than you can imagine!