Journal Archive 2008 CYCLE A

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Readings: Is 60:1-6, 10
Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2:1-12.

The Guiding Light
I often wonder how many special stars I have missed which were in plain sight which would have led me to the Christ light? How many people with whom I interact or see at a safe distance might be the one whom God has put on or in my path today to transform my life? How often have I listened half heartedly to the words of someone, whom I deemed not important and missed the words that called me to my next step in the journey?

I wish the questions above were addressed to someone other than me and yet if I do not honestly address these questions, I will never find myself in the company of the wise men. The wise men were willing to look at the night sky and notice the unusual. I think in order to notice the unusual they must have had a powerful grasp of what the “usual” sky looked like.

As this new year unfolds, I seek to become more aware of those in my everyday surroundings with the hope, that as they are called to guide me with their light, I will not be left in the dark because of my misguided blindness.

Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Mt 3:13-17

A Simple Handshake
In one of my chaplain internships I worked at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston. I was so nervous to enter the rooms of the patients and say, “Hello I am a chaplain here, is there anyway I can serve you?” Now almost 16 years later, I enter the homes and hospital/nursing rooms of patients with a different kind of introduction. However, there is always a little space of “what if they don’t want to see me?” anxiety lurking beneath the calm exterior.

At that first internship I was asked to work with a seasoned chaplain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, affectionately called NICU. The babies in this unit were in some kind of trouble; many were very premature or were born with a life threatening beginning. I was very nervous about this assignment. I had never given birth to a baby and my comfort zone with babies with serious physical problems was below the charting line.

However, I was given the most wonderful chaplain who remembered her early days in the NICU and she gently nudged me into comfort with her kindness. One memory sticks out in my mind. It was the day Cathy brought me to the crib side of a baby that weighed just a little over one pound. She said after I cleaned and scrubbed my hands, “Here just put your pointer finger near her hand, let her make contact with you.” And I did, I slowly and carefully put my very sterile pointer finger near her tiny hand…and I waited.

This little one grabbed my finger and held on. She did not seem the least bit afraid of me in this context, even though I weighed a good bit more than her. My mentor said, “She senses your spirit and knows you are okay.” Even now it makes me somewhat teary. What an amazing God, who formed this little one in the womb and that moment, was present in the simple connection of a very small fist and one very much larger pointer finger!

Who are we anyway, that God should form us, call us by name and call us to be present to the needs and gifts of others? Again, I ask myself as a baptized Christian, who does God call me to be, to serve and to become? As this week unfolds, I shall look for the Spirit to guide me, be in the hands of the very small or the hand grasp of those who are very old.

Is 49:3, 5-6
1 Cor 1:1-3
Jn 1:29-34.

The Glory of God
The readings from Sunday January 20th stir up in me questions and reactions. The first question is from the Isaiah, have I ever met anyone who showed forth God’s glory? I certainly have prayed that I might be an instrument of God’s unconditional love, has there ever been a point that in that action or desire that I showed forth God’s glory?

Secondly, am I courageous enough to accept God’s direct call to be God’s servant or God’s light? I remember once having a very strong dream about God speaking to me directly. It scared me so much that I couldn’t go back to sleep. God seemed too close, too overwhelming! Ever since that dream in the late seventies, I have always felt better telling God my plans about what I am going to do for Him, than that overwhelming encounter in my dream.

In the gospel we hear more about Jesus’ baptism. Jesus not only receives John’s baptism, but He also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is this powerful baptism of the Spirit with the simple action of the pouring of water that empowered Jesus to His new ministry. Empowered by the Spirit to be open to being not only the servant of God, but also the one through whom God’s glory could be shown.

I wonder if I have been open to the power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation to be transformed into a servant willing to be about “My Father’s business, a vehicle through whom His glory can be seen?”

Is 8:23-9:3
1 Cor 1:10-13, 17
Mt 4:12-23 or 4:12-17

The Right Stuff
Right now in the United States there seems to be very few places that you can go where you are not inundated with news about the presidential election. The information about a candidate that we receive may be true or false, somewhat true or somewhat false. What does seem true is that each of the candidates believes that they have something important to offer the people of the United States.

Choosing or feeling called to positions of visibility takes courage. I remember being part of a pastoral organization that was looking for a new president; I was part of the small group that was looking at people’s resumes. Prior to position being posted, everyone took time to make sure the qualifications fit what was needed for the office of president.

I remember hearing one committee member questioning whether Jesus would have the qualifications to get an interview. It is often statements like these that keep me from choosing to consider putting my name in for an elected office; that reluctance and questioning shows up for me as I read the scripture for January 27.

The readings today make me question what I have within me that makes me a candidate to respond to Jesus request to discipleship, to Paul’s invitation to me to preach the good news in Jesus name, and that my yes is stirred up because, I too, like the people in Isaiah 8 have seen “a great light” in my times of “darkness.”

However, as I noted earlier whether it is the call to run for a public office or an organization’s office, I am not always convinced I have the right stuff. How might I decide what the “right stuff” is to live and preach the gospel? What are the qualities within me or you that give light to the kingdom at hand? What am I willing to let go of in my life, in order that light of Christ might be more visible? Am I courageous enough to take Jesus’ confidence in everyday mortals, such as Peter and Andrew, that I too am enough to witness the call to love and forgive?

I think that I am willing to risk accepting this call…as long as I dare to root myself in the One who issued the invitation!

Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Rom 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19
Mt 4:1-11

Garage Temptations
I spent the weekend putting together two shelving unites for the garage. A friend and I put the first shelf together toward later afternoon yesterday and finished the second shelf this afternoon. The piles in the garage had become so plentiful that the two cars could squeeze inside the garage, but I practically had to climb out of the back of the station wagon to get out of the garage. For weeks I have looked at the piles and thought, “I really have to do something.”

So the two shelving units seem like this big breakthrough! Not only could I pull the cars in without any problems, I could also get out of the car without practicing any stunt woman activities.

All of this happened the first weekend in Lent! Jesus went to the desert to clear out inner space, to make room for the word of God to be accessible. After forty days, the devil was there to make spiritual clutter for Him, challenging him with the temptations of: showing his power as the Son of God and changing stones into bread, seeing if the angels would prevent him from harm if he threw himself off the temple’s parapet and giving Jesus power over multiple kingdoms if he would worship the evil one.

In each case Jesus said no to the temptations of the Devil. I think that He was able to make these choices because he remembered who he was, not from a place of fear or doubt, but rather from a place of inner conviction.

This Lent, each of us are invited into that same desert that we might root ourselves in the way of God; a God who is faithful and all loving. We make this journey in community with other pilgrims who seek to root themselves in the same God and Holy Spirit that led Jesus to His deepest truths.

My garage is hardly a desert, however, as I begin this Lenten journey it is a great metaphor for the work that is waiting to happen in my soul, one pile at a time, sometimes with concert with the help of a friend and at other times by myself. What is your metaphor? May this verse from the responsorial psalm be our guide during this Lenten Season:

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

Life Turned Upside Down
Again after another bout of being sick in bed I re-enter my world of work and being upright for the day, rather than only a few hours. Although this is not at all like being blind, it did offer me an opportunity to look at wellness with new eyes. I have noticed especially after being sick how very easy it is to take life for granted and in the midst of that forgetting to choose life from a place of passion.

The man born blind was given a whole new array of choices about everything with his healing. I would imagine that he could choose new job skills, and new places where he could travel with greater ease. At the same time, this man had the challenge of being open to a whole new way of looking at the world and the world looking at him. How did his encounter with Jesus give him the courage to take in this new world?

As a child I use to think, “How very cool to get sight after being blind!” Until the last ten years or so I never thought about what it would take to be open to all of these changes, emotionally, physically, culturally and spiritually. As I listened to the readings for Sunday March 2nd, I got in touch with what it takes to be open to healing into new sight. Our daily patterns become very familiar and familiarity is hard to give up. The man given sight had everything in his life turned upside down. Even his parents were afraid to claim his healing due to the implications of being one of Jesus’ followers.

Being sick the last two weeks made me more aware of the patterns and attitudes which I had fallen into in my daily life. What has struck me being just on the other side of being sick is that I want to see each day with more passion, more excitement. As I listened to the scriptures of March 2nd I felt a inner desire to be courageous like the man born blind and claim Jesus as the source of my seeing life with passion and excitement.

As I journey this week of Lent I seek to follow the lead of the man born blind, open to my life being turned upside down by Jesus and see anew how to claim this life changing healing.

Ez 37:12-14
Rom 8:8-11
Jn 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45

Let Your Ears be Attentive
In church a few weeks ago the priest presider was sending the younger children off for their scripture study. He began his prayer saying, “Let your ears help you see God’s presence among you…” Realizing that he said ears and not eyes he repeated the sentence again using the word “eyes.”

I liked his use of the word ears in that context. How often does our most profound seeing or awakening come from our seeing with our ears?! In the gospel reading for Sunday March 9th Lazarus experienced new life through his ability to hear his name being spoken. His family and those gathered saw the power of God through the words spoken by Jesus.

I sat next to a patient the other day who felt like God had abandoned her. She didn’t feel His presence and she missed it. As we talked about this she teared up. She spoke from that deep place of longing that we hear about in psalm 42 and in the psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.

We then turned to the psalms and listened to the words that painted that same longing and sense of absence that my patient was experiencing. She listened to the words and as she did so, she voiced feeling more at peace. The words seemed to help her see again God’s presence, experience the power of community that comes with having a common longing acknowledged through the words and faith of others.

What do I see in the words of the gospel of March 9th? Dare I allow my ears to take me places that I might not see with my eyes? This Lenten journey invites me along with the raising up of Lazarus to engage the complexity of all my senses in order that I might see with my ears the God of love who speaks to us today.

Is 50:4-7
Phil 2:6-11
Mt 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54.

Which Crowd?
There it was the Palm Sunday celebration. My friend Alice and I head off to Sunday’s celebration. I got let off at the place where the procession was going to begin outside, and Alice parks her car. I kept looking at the back of the crowd gathered for my friend, but she was no where in sight. Once in church I look and see her in a side pew of the church, she appears from a distance to be upset. When I finally got to the pew, I asked if something is wrong and she tells me that she fell and thinks she may have broken her wrist.

She had been looking forward to the beginning of Holy Week services and didn’t want to miss the Palm Sunday Eucharist; however, she was in a lot of pain, so I drove her home. I find out later that two of the people involved in celebration could see that she was hurt, but did nothing. One of the folks even asked, “Are you alright?” When she answered, “No,” the person turned away and continued to hand out palms.

I found this whole experience very disturbing. I have asked myself this week, “What was going on inside those two people that Palm Sunday turned into aspects of the Good Samaritan story?” What happens to us in crowds or when we have “official roles” at a church function?

During Holy Week we hear about people in two different crowd gatherings, the first being Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on the ass where he is hailed as the “Messiah,” and the other where the crowd calls out for his death. The messages toward the same man were so different in nature. My friend Alice and I had talked about these two crowds before going to the Palm Sunday celebration. Alice stated that she thought that two crowds consisted of two different groups of people. “Why,” said she, “would it need to be the same people?”

Alice then talked about the two different groups that would gather at the prison when someone was to be executed. “One crowd,” she said, “consisted of those who came to see the criminal punished. And the other crowd would come to pray for all involved in this story, in any way. “Why,” asked Alice, “would it not be the same at the time of Jesus?” As for me, I had always assumed it was the same people in both crowds caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Perhaps there is something to be said about crowds and their power to influence our behavior on a given day. I think the man who was directing people to go to the gathering place across the street and not the church was focused on that…nothing else. The woman handing out palms may not have known what to do with Alice’s need and her job of handing out psalms. Two people doing their jobs for the big picture and missing the needs of one in front of them…

I am disenchanted with their response to Alice. At the same time, the question that haunts me is, “Where was their focus?” During this Holy Week, we will read and hear about moments of incredible unity among Jesus and His followers and moments of abandonment and suffering. Throughout those highs and lows there will be friends and foes gathered around Jesus. As we listen once again to those stories, the question is there for us to consider, “Where is our focus? Will we follow the example of the women who followed Jesus? Will we be the two men on the crosses next to Jesus? Will we be Judas or Peter? Or might we venture into the experience seeing ourselves in aspects of both the saints and the sinners? When Easter morning arrives, where will our focus be when the rock is no longer in front of the tomb?

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Col 3:1-4 or I Cor 5:6b-8
Jn 20:1-9

Who was that Man?
The day before Easter a friend and I were taking our dogs to be groomed. In many ways it had been a wonderfully normal Saturday. The dogs had been taken to the dog park where they ran and let go of some of their pent up energy, I had made time for prayer and the day was showing some incredible Southwest signs of spring; all in all a great day so far!

As we headed to the groomers we came upon a black van parked in the middle of the intersection. It was obvious from all the folks standing around that some kind of accident had happened. There didn’t seem to be another car, so it seemed strange to have the van parked in the middle with people waving their arms. As I drove pass the van I saw a man lying on the street with his arms straight out from his sides. There was a huge pool of blood under his head and he appeared to be dead. I saw a woman taking his pulse and her face appeared stressed.

My friend and I immediately began to pray out loud several Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Following our praying we were both very quiet. Throughout the day my mind wandered back to the man lying in the street. I was especially caught by his arms being out like Christ’s arms on the cross. Then I would think about the pool of blood under his head.

As my mind relived these images into Easter Sunday I was struck with the thrill and fear that entered Mary Magdeline’s thoughts when she saw that Christ was not in the tomb and the feelings that must have been with this man’s friends and family on Easter morning. I also became more aware of how distant I was to the physical realities that we celebrate and remember during the Tridium.

I became aware of how I had sanitized the scourging of Christ and his death. Of course there had to be blood and discomfort, but I had the image in my mind rather than experiencing it through my heart and imagination.

I bring this up because my Easter Sunday experience was changed because of this man’s tragedy. His name and his story are secluded to this tiny window where I saw him lying in the street. I have checked the paper for any report of an accident on this road, but I have seen none.

Our corner of the city is a little rougher and known for being an area where “trouble happens.” Perhaps this didn’t qualify as “news worthy.” Maybe if it had happened to a “famous person.” Quite honestly, I don’t know why I couldn’t get more information. Maybe it wasn’t a story they wanted to have in the Easter Sunday newspaper.

Back to Jesus Christ and the celebration of His resurrection…I wonder what the word was out on the street about his death on the previous Friday? Who knew and moreover who cared? I wonder how long it took for the word to get out that his disciples, both a woman and man, found the tomb empty except for his linen clothes left behind?

At what point did the story of the Risen Lord begin to change the lives of those, like myself, who had allowed their religious and spiritual sensibilities to be sanitized? Who and how might we be changed during this Easter Season by the lives of both those known and unknown to us?

Acts 2:42-47
1 Pt 1:3-9
Jn 20:19-31

Inner Room
I love the readings from the Sunday of March 30th. It touches on values that I hold most dear and in the gospel it states that Christ can penetrate any fear with love.

Growing up in a family of seven children we shared everything from the television to arguing about whose night it was to do the dishes, the boys or the girls. Through out most of my life, with the exception of one year, I have shared a common living experience. Much to my surprise at times I found out that I had my own set of idiosyncrasies of which I wasn’t aware.

Some of the revelations were less painful than others. I remember Sr. Elena telling me one day that she would be glad to help cut the raison bread that I had made the day before. When I said that I could do it by myself, she told me that I didn’t cut the bread straight which in turn made it harder for others.

This revelation was easy to take in.

Other revelations were more challenging as they question my intention to be thoughtful of others. Although I do my best to live community well, it has been those harder revelations that continue to call me to look at the values that are most important to me.

When the Risen Christ walked through the fear of the disciples to bring His peace we encounter the power of love that gives us the foundation to live in community, whether it is as of large household or family or as a global citizen. I love this gospel as it pulls me out of any current fear, darkness or doubt into the possibility of love overcoming fear, light meeting darkness with peace rather than judgment, and trust reaching out to doubt.

This season of Easter seeks to deepen within us, what the season of Christmas does with lights and decorations, gifts and parties; only it does it by going inward. It invites us into that inner room where, like the disciples we sometimes hang out in our fears, it invites us to walk the road of Emmaus and hear in our prayer another voice that places a deeper longing for the yet unseen.

My challenge is to trust that my inner room is as permeable as the one where the disciples were gathered when the Risen Christ moved into their fear with peace!

Acts 2:14, 22-33
1 Pt 1:17-21
Lk 24:13-35

Roadside Conversations
As I read the gospel of April 6th I wondered, “What were the niceties that the people shared at the time that this was happening, as it pertained to road etiquette?” Was it a common happening that a stranger would join the “already in process” conversations of two others?

Were the disciples initially put off that this stranger not only joined their conversation, but appeared initially to be clueless about what had gone on in Jerusalem? How did the stranger know when to insert the key stories from the Torah and writings of the prophets as a tool to drop the disciples into the rich past which prophesied the events of the last days?

Then I think about myself, how open am I to complete strangers impacting my conversations that are very important to my daily life? I have to be honest, I don’t think I be so open initially to a stranger butting into a conversation like this. Yet in reflecting about this conversation that took place back in antiquity, I think that the Risen Christ does break into our confusion with unexpected angels.

This week, it is my opportunity to broaden my heart to be open to the unexpected Christ who appears on my road to Emmaus.

Acts 6:1-7
1 Pt 2:4-9
Jn 14:1-12

God’s Prism
A few years ago I was asked to do a funeral/celebration of life worship service for a patient. She was an amazing woman who others would describe as dynamic, an activist, faith filled and very human. Her family said that others saw her as an amazing woman who was a fine prism for God’s light to shine through. The hard thing about the story of this amazing woman is that she never saw herself as good enough. Never was able to acknowledge the vehicle she was for God’s presence in the here and now.

As we talked about the patient’s death and God calling her home to “that place” prepared for her, the family thought for the first time their mother would know the full love of God. Her doubts would be dismissed for good and she would know that she was filled with God’s light. This for them was very comforting. When we chose the reading from John 14:1-4 the family was appreciative of the surety of its message.

In this gospel reading from John 14:1-14, Jesus addresses his disciples’ fear about what is going to happen next, what could they count on, and once again tells his disciples to trust that there is no need to fear or worry about the next place.

Like the disciples and my patient it is easy to be afraid and unsure of what is around the corner. It is easy to question whether we are “good enough” to be counted as one that Jesus goes to prepare a place for or ready enough to experience the full grace and power of the Holy Spirit. For many it is easier to claim who we aren’t rather than who we are.

As we reflect on the gospel for April 20th let us expand the invitation of Jesus as not being limited until we die. Let us embrace our call as Christians to be in the fullness of that presence now, let us live in the Kingdom that is at hand. Empowered by the Holy Spirit to be embraced by a loving God, who has no need to wait until this life is over in order for us to be filled by His love and welcomed home.

My patient’s family was grateful that their mom would know that God’s complete love in a way that her personal view of not being “good enough” seem to keep her from experiencing that full love in this life.

Let us dare to live and breathe today the assuring words of Jesus that he has prepared a place for us. Here and now, let us not wait for the next place in order to know the fullness of that joy!

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
1 Pt 3:15-18
Jn 14:15-21

The Face in the Mirror
As I thought about the readings for the Sunday of April 27th, the gospel stirred up in me a surprising smile. How many times have you heard others, or perhaps have said to yourself, “I couldn’t believe it, I looked in the mirror today and I saw my Mom/my Dad starring back at me! When did that happened?”

Often time this comment sets the speaker on a discourse about growing older and when did their parent start showing up in the mirror? Sometimes a friend or family member will say to us, you sound just like your __________ fill in the blank. Personally I don’t see my parents in my physical looks, but I have heard my mom’s words or laugh roll out of my mouth. Again depending on our comfort with ourselves or our family member we will greet these appearances in different ways.

In the gospel from April 27th Jesus is trying to give his disciples clues on what to look for after He leaves them to return to His Father.

“But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Imagine what it must have been like for those disciples to encounter the Risen One in the actions and words that followed the coming of the Spirit! Imagine what our potential is with that same spirit to become the Face of the Living God! Just imagine looking into the mirror tomorrow and seeing the face of Christ looking back at you! Just imagine…

Mt 28:16-20

The Call of the Spirit
On the readings for Sunday, May 4th, we read from the very last chapter of Matthew. It is the swan song of Jesus, the Christ, before He ascends into heaven. He promises his presence through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which he will send to empower the disciples to go forth with His message.

We don’t really know where they hung out as they waited for this Spirit to come and give them what they need to do. We hear the readings from this Sunday with hindsight. Everything is in place for us as we hear what the disciples are being told…hindsight.

In current time and place the question before me is this, “What is the message that the world…the kingdom of God, is waiting to be spoken by me? What messages within my heart are being called forth through the power of the Holy Spirit? What am I waiting for in order to know that this is the time for the message to be spoken? What is the living Christ asking me to bring forth in my everyday life that will break the chains of slavery in my family, my community, my country and in our global village?

As the gospel has the Christ being lifted from our sight, what do the words of the beings in white call forth for me in the following words?

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 2:1-11
1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13
Jn 20:19-23.

The Bicycle
I heard a young girl crying the other night when I was walking the dogs. I couldn’t see where she was or what she was doing. As Hannah, Emmie and I got closer to the crying I saw her Dad walking beside her while she sat on the seat of her small bicycle. I could hear him coaching her on where to put her feet and a little bit about sitting tall on her seat. His voice sounded kind and encouraging. Within a few moments, the crying stopped and I could see her pumping her pedals while her dad walked beside her. As I listened to the new rider it lifted up a long ago story that changed my life.

Like the little girl I know what it is like to be afraid, to try new things and risk success. In the readings from Pentecost, we see the disciples afraid and unsure as well as doing new things not thought possible. We are flooded with a variety of images of the entrance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples and Jews from every nation. In the second reading we are told about the various gifts which are bestowed upon us from the Spirit. In the gospel Jesus, after wishing peace upon his frightened disciples, invokes the Holy Spirit to fill them and teach them the way of forgiveness.

I forget sometimes how to try again when I feel frustrated or unable to do a task. Like the little girl, having someone beside me can make all the difference. In the readings of Pentecost we hear again how God throughout history has entered our doubts, our fears, and our despair. Through the gift of language the Holy Spirit connected through astonishment and tongue the diverse crowd gathered in Jerusalem. In the second reading, Paul teaches the Corinthians about the diverse ways in which the Spirit is present and works to make community, providing for all the needs of the community.

In the gospel, Jesus breaks through the unknown for his unsure disciples, drawing upon both the simple words of “Peace be with you,” and calling the Holy Spirit upon them.

As we celebrate this season of Pentecost may we dare to have our fears broken through like the little girl on the bike or like the disciples behind the locked doors? May we risk the power of the Holy Spirit to use us to communicate the living power of God at work in our lives.

Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own.”

2 Cor 13:11-13
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Jn 3:16-18
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

Nix Worry
Last Friday I sat with Ellen and listened as she talked about worrying about her son getting a job, her heart keeping a steady beat, and a pastor who questioned her journey toward God. She talked easily about how the impact of this worry on her heart and her sleep…in short it wasn’t good. She wondered how to be in the present moment and allow God to be God.

I have to admit that I could identify with the ability to worry about things that might happen and be afraid of not doing the right next step. It was in the conversation with Ellen that I realized how my pre-occupation with worry was my attempt to control the future before it showed up. It also became very clear that by being focused on the future both Ellen and I missed God in the present moment.

Moses described the Israelites as being a “stiffed neck people,” perhaps like us they were looking too far ahead. With my propensity to worry about the future, today’s reading from John challenges me to live the message that Jesus came for me today. That His life, death, and resurrection continues to fill me with grace and freedom for the here and now.

On this Sunday when we celebrate the Holy Trinity, I am invited to live with the fellowship of the Spirit to guide me in the present moment, experience the freedom of the grace of Christ and be transformed by the love of God.

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Moses said to the people:
“Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God,
has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction
and find out whether or not it was your intention
to keep his commandments.”

1 Cor 10:16-17
Brothers and sisters:
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

Jn 6:51-58
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Feedings Our Daily Hungers
This year our family reunion will be different; not because of the invitations nor because it is happening in a different town. It will be different because for the first time in at least forty years my uncle Father Bill will not be there to celebrate the Eucharist! For the first time in years my siblings and my cousins (and for that matter their children’s children) will not gather in group of concentric circles to be the church, the readers, the alter servers, the choir, nor the Eucharistic ministers…Fr. Bill died shortly after our family reunion last year.

Our parents and aunts/uncles taught us that part of being family was rooted in our connection at the Eucharist. Our large family gatherings, due to Fr. Bill’s love of celebrating this divine meal with us, never happened without the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup and praying with and for each other.

Although our lives have been much different than the Israelites wandering through the desert for forty years, each of us has had our own moments of getting off the path. This yearly celebration of the Eucharist reminded me of God’s infinite love that was greater than any of my side paths.

I know that we will continue to gather as family and celebrate our connection. Perhaps this summer we will go to a nearby church to celebrate the Eucharist. However, I think that Fr. Bill would not want us to miss the call of Christ to each of us to learn how to feed each other’s deeper hungers and thirst in our simple interactions with each other.

The Feast of Corpus Christi must happen not only at the table presided over at designated mass times, but as importantly in the simple ways that we reach out to feed each other in our great and small hungers.

Dt 11:18, 26-28, 32
…Moses told the people,
“Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign,
and let them be a pendant on your forehead.”

Mt 7:21-27
…”Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

Feedings Our Daily Hungers
The other day I sat in the long hallway of a multistoried nursing home. I sat with one of our “patients”, who made a face and a comment about every person who walked past us. I encouraged her to “be nice.” She smiled back and made another face. Later we prayed and I gave her communion. As I left her to go see another patient on another floor, I wondered, “Where will I sit in another 30 years? What will my mind be like and at whom might I be making faces?”

Before I worked with the elderly who are on hospice, I worked with people living with serious cancer. With that job I learned the truth that cancer strikes all ages and impacts people who have done all the right things, as well as people who did all the wrong things. In both situations, my teachers walking with cancer and/or old age have taught me that one can’t necessarily predict where they are going to be in a year, five years or thirty or for that matter neither can they predict what their personality will be like.

However, I do have an opportunity in the here and now to make choices about how I take the word of God into my “heart and soul.” Who do I turn to in times of challenge? What beliefs guide my daily behaviors when I struggle to love others? Upon what have I built my house?

Rom 4:18-25
Brothers and sisters:
Abraham believed, hoping against hope,
that he would become “the father of many nations,”
according to what was said, “Thus shall your descendants be.”
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body
as already dead – for he was almost a hundred years old –
and the dead womb of Sarah.
He did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was strengthened by faith and gave glory to God.

Mt 9:9-13
As Jesus passed on from there,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”

Dare to Bear Fruit
With the exception of about four years in total, I grew up in northeast Iowa. From age four plus until I was eighteen or so I lived in two small towns, both having less than 10,000 in population. The towns comprised a religious mixture of Catholics and Protestants. We had Jewish neighbors in the first small town; they had to drive an hour and a half to go to a synagogue.

So for the most part, I grew up meeting a lot of people who looked like me physically and our differences were which school they went to and the possibility that they may have gone to a different place to church on Sunday. Some of my Protestant friends had church on Wednesday night, too, but since I went to Catholic school I did church everyday, but Saturday.

In the second small town where we lived, I was the “new kid” from sixth grade until I graduated from high school. This was primarily because my parents didn’t grow up in this town and we didn’t have any relatives who lived here before we moved there; being new for such a long time often made me feel outside the “special circle.”

Only in hindsight was I able to see how being outside the special circle prepared me to look to a bigger world to feel at home. My first experience of this was in college and working as a community organizer in Chicago. It was obvious from my color and rural background that I didn’t blend in the neighborhoods where I worked. However, this gifted me with the knowledge that I needed to look at my differences to see where I connected with those with whom I worked.

As a hospice chaplain I continue to recognize the different ways in which I look at today from those who are dying look at everyday. At the same time I see how similarly we embrace our challenges and fear, as well as our hopes.

In the readings for the Sunday of June 8th, Paul’s letter to the Romans talks about Abraham’s ability to hope against hope that God’s promise would happen. I would imagine that Sarah, whose womb was dead, also had to draw from a deep place of faith to bear the seed of life for Isaac. Being a woman she stood outside of the “special circle.” Being a “barren woman” she even was outside of the “women’s circle.”

Yet like Matthew the tax collector, she followed the call of God to give birth to a message of hope that was often seen as being only worthy of a selected few. Matthew dared to hear the call of Jesus, Abraham dared to hope against hope, Sarah dared to bear the seed of life in a womb thought to be barren…where do these readings dare us to bear fruit in the here and now?

Ex 19:2-6a
Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant,
you shall be my special possession,
dearer to me than all other people,
though all the earth is mine.
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

Mt 9:36-10:8
Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

Princess for the Day
This past week I went to a conference in Orlando Florida. My friend and I came a little early so we could spend time at Epcot Center. I had always wanted to go to Epcot Center so I was wound for sound and very excited!

As we stood in line I noticed a beautiful little girl, maybe age four or five. She had on a lovely mint green long dress, with white gloves, and a tiara on her heard. It was obvious to me that she must be royalty. She was just across the line from me so I went over to her and knelt down so we could be eye to eye. I asked her, “How long have you been a princess?” She looked back at me and said, “Just today.”

She was very clear about how long her reign would last and perhaps her parents were to her as well. However, despite the shortness of her reign I have thought about her daily since I saw her last week. I thought about myself at her age and I could not imagine myself princess for a day, nor wearing the royal clothes in such a public place. She gave me a lot of food for thought throughout the conference I attended.

Yet the readings for Sunday June 15th talk to us very directly in the readings about being “special” if we live God’s covenant. Jesus invites us to tell all that the kingdom is at hand now and that we have everything we need to do extraordinary things for the people of God. What is that if not an invitation to live the lives of leaders or royalty in the here and now?

As I seek to accept this invitation I must answer these important questions: Who are those in my everyday life who are longing the experience the power of God’s loving presence and how am I as “God’s special one” called to extend it?

I don’t think it is about wearing my princess dress and tiara, nor about going out of my way to find people. I think it is waiting for me in the encounters that at the end of the day seem “normal.” However if I remember to bring into those taken for granted encounters with others the gentleness, the forgiveness and the love of a God who knows and sees all of our potentials, then that day will be royal and holy.

Jer. 20:10-13
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.’
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.

Mt. 10:26-33
Jesus said to the Twelve:
“Fear no one.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

How Many Sparrows am I Worth
In the Sunday readings for June 22nd, I found myself thinking about the different ways that I sabotage myself. I may have a few people in my life who look for my down fall (Jer. 20:10-30), or are occasionally catty about something I have done or said. However, I could make a quick list of the number of times this past week where I have been the source for the voices chastising my work or something that I have said.

The list begins with the inner dialogue: I can’t believe I said that, I should have said this, not that…
Or the negative coaching moments ahead of an event when I say, “What was I thinking when I said I could do this workshop…this funeral…?” I don’t think that I am the only who is their own worst enemy.
In the gospel reading Jesus says,

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

How do I allow the words of Jesus to become a new source of light for my words and actions? How can His message of unconditional love for me, in my strengths as well as my challenges, shift the way I prepare for an opportunity and/or shift my self evaluation after an event?

I think I must begin by believing the words of Jesus who speaks to that place in me that is more comfortable with “not being good enough,” than being a reflection of his divine love in the here and now. After all he says to me, to each of us,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Acts 12:1-11
The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.”
He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”
and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”
So he followed him out, not realizing that
what was happening through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter recovered his senses and said,
“Now I know for certain
that the Lord sent his angel
and rescued me from the hand of Herod.”

Mt. 16: 13-19
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.”

I love to hike! Since I moved down to the Southwest from the Upper Midwest my hiking has been challenged by hiking on mountains instead of flat surfaces or hills. The hiking up mountains brings new opportunities to practice sure footedness. The mountains are higher, the paths are steeper and most often narrower than places I use to hike.

I am not a tall person, so there isn’t a whole lot of distance from the top of my head to the soles of my feet; however, even with that closeness to the ground it would be easy to fall a great distance. Some paths are fabulous, meaning that there isn’t too much gravel to slip on and there are ample strong tree branches to hang onto should my foot start to slip. Other paths have loose rock underfoot and I’m reluctant to grab hold of the thin branches bordering the trail.

The readings for the Sunday of June 29th reminded me of my hiking experiences. I think the readings from the Acts and the gospel of Matthew touch upon the challenge of trust and of sure footedness. In the first reading Peter, who seems to be asleep as he is led out of the prison by the angels, is totally dependent upon the angels to be sure footed in his escape from prison. How often do we find ourselves on the other side of a challenging work situation and know for certain that God’s grace inspired a good result?

In the gospel reading, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, despite all of the times he has questioned Jesus’ decisions in public, gives the correct answer. He answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Here in this passage Jesus gives Peter the stamp of approval and in fact says that he is the rock upon which His church will be built.

We know that in only a few chapters later, however, Peter denies even knowing “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” He slips on the path of sure footedness and appears to be lost. Later after the resurrection Jesus does not forsake Peter, but rather he allows Peter’s humanness to be strengthened by His love for him.

There are days when I question my sure footedness on the path. I say the wrong thing or I miss an opportunity to reach out to the needs of another. I know all of that is human. The examples of Peter in the two readings today are a mirror of our own struggles. Finally, do I have the humility and trust to allow the Spirit to help me get back up on the path?

Rom 8:26-27
Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.

Recently I have had pastoral visits with patients who have lived tough lives. They have stories of being abusive with family members and now they are dying. The family members struggle with the desire to make peace with those stories and the patients are pensive and quiet, especially when I ask them, “For what should we pray?”

The second reading from Roman’s: 8:26-27 stirred me as I thought about today’s entry. As a professional whose primary role is to bear witness to the stories of those I meet and to seek to be an instrument of God’s love and forgiveness, I need to draw on this Spirit to guide my prayers. The words in some ways are easy to say, however, words are empty if they aren’t filled with a spirit much bigger than me.

For me as a human it can be really hard to understand the violence that we are capable of doing to other humans, especially if it involves physical and sexual abuse. It’s just hard to be in those sacred places aware of the honor to be there and at the same time needing a much bigger spirit to pray the prayer. That is why this reading came at such a great time for me.

I need to be clear with myself that God is very big and knows the needs of all. This God is the one who was likened to the father thrilled when his prodigal son came home. This is the God, whose son Jesus healed both the physical and spiritual needs of people who crossed his path without being asked.

I think that all of us encounter people who call us to bigger places of love. This week I will try again to remember the following: “And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”

Mt 13:44-52
Jesus said to his disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Time and Space
Recently my daily prayer has been a little bumpy. I haven’t been as regular and consistent as is my pattern. This morning I got up and gave myself enough time and inner space to pray. As I eased myself back into the familiar pattern I was once again amazed at the hidden treasure of prayer.

I don’t know what it is like for others, but sometimes I create a prayer experience that feels like one of those fast forward rosaries said at wakes. I can say at the end of the rosary that I touched all of the beads and said all of the prayers expected of me, but I can’t say that I experienced God’s peace at the end of it. I would imagine for the prayerfully fit, they are able to do the fast forward rosary and feel God’s peace. I am not there yet.

Sometimes when my morning prayer is bumpy it mirrors that kind of experience. I light the candle, ring the bell, and say the prayer, but I have left out room for God’s presence. I have forgotten that breathing with the words and the intention helps me to be present in such a way that I seem to meet God with greater depth.

In the gospel for July 27th, Jesus uses parables to describe the kingdom of heaven. He likens it to finding a treasure in a field or a merchant in search of fine pearls. In both cases the seeker gives all that she/he has in order to purchase the sought after treasure.

I don’t know how long the seeker looked for the treasure or how long the merchant sought the fine pearls. However, I do know from the gospel that both gave up all that they had in order to obtain what they were seeking. Jesus invites us to seek the riches of the kingdom of heaven each day.

Where might this hidden treasure or pearl of great price be waiting for us today? Perhaps like my experience of prayer, I only need to slow down so that I might see it when it presents itself.

Is 55:1-3
Rom 8:35, 37-39
Mt 14:13-21

Familiar Fish and New Fishing Rods
A few years ago I went out with the director of our chaplaincy department and another chaplain to go fishing. Both of them were seasoned fisher people and I had not fished in years. I had a wonderful new fishing rod, which was much more complex than the cane pole I used as a child.

I was fortunate to be with good and patient teachers, who didn’t seem to mind when I interrupted them to find out once again, how do I cast with this pole? After about three hours of fishing, we had caught several fish. I had caught the largest bass that afternoon and I was thrilled.

The Spiritual Care department that I was once part of had periodic gatherings. My boss, an excellent fisherman and hunter usually provided all of the meat for the gatherings. The rest of us would fill out the meal with side dishes, salads, drinks, and of course dessert. I can’t tell you how excited I was at my last gathering with my colleagues (before moving to the southwest) to be part of the fish providers. Note that I did not say I caught a lot of fish, but rather I caught the biggest fish that day.

My boss Chuck did the hard work of cleaning the fish and grilling them, yet I found myself basking in a glow that came from my connectedness to what I was providing for the meal.

On Sunday August 3rd we are invited in the reading from Isaiah to come with our hunger and thirst and be satisfied. In the gospel reading Jesus draws on what is provided to feed the needs of the large crowd gathered. In both the first reading and the gospel we are assured that all would be or were satisfied. What we don’t know is how God pulled it off!

Were the fish and bread that Jesus had at the beginning of the feeding the only food that was shared? What kind of hungers did the crowd bring to that time with Jesus and his disciples? Did the crowd of five thousand plus really have their hungers met by five fish and two loafs of bread? Or perhaps did Jesus’ act of generosity and trust draw from the people in the crowd a generosity that was waiting to be tapped by His modeling?

Did the people in the crowd begin to share the side dishes that they had tucked into a bag when they decided to journey where Jesus was? Were there others in the crowd who also had a fish or loaf of bread to share?

Perhaps like our chaplaincy gatherings the act of knowing and remembering how to share created a great abundance of food for all. The gospel invites us to think about what we have to bring to the hungers and thirsts of those with whom we break bread and share life…perhaps in order to feed those hungers we will need to learn how to use a new fishing rod to meet the needs both familiar and not.

1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Rom 9:1-5
Mt 14:22-33

The Otherside
I am from a large family and there were many times that I looked on as one of my siblings tried to do something for the first time. Sometimes that effort was put toward worthwhile things and other times not. However as one of the younger children I got to watch both. Sometimes I learned what to do and what not…

In the August 10th Sunday gospel, I found myself hanging out with the disciples in the boat watching Peter walk towards what appeared to be Jesus. For the first time, when I placed myself in the boat I thought Peter might have a heat stroke or not enough food in his system. I wasn’t sure why Peter was talking to a vision on the water.

I wondered what would compel him to leave the boat and “walk on water!?” It wasn’t clear to me and I was caught between praying for his soul and wondering how it was that he was staying on top of the water. I wasn’t alone in this, the others were yelling at Peter. We heard him say, “Lord if it is you, command me to walk on the water.” And we watched him climb out of the boat toward the ghost…and then we watched him begin to falter.

Miraculously he seemed to be pulled back up and came back toward the boat. Even more surprising was the fact that it was Jesus who got into our boat with Peter!

I experienced the gospel in a whole new way. Upon hearing the gospel I did not place myself in Peter’s shoes, but behind the eyes of those in the boat. I really questioned Peter’s sanity and his safety. Fortunately, Peter was braver and more courageous than I often see myself. He was willing to leap forward in faith and when he began to go down in the water, he asked Jesus for help.

The question that this gospel begged of me is: am I willing to change from my fearful stance? Am I willing to allow the courageous example of others lead me to actions that are transformed from fearful ghosts to meeting the call of Jesus outside of the safety of the boat?

Is 56:1, 6-7
Rom 11:13-15, 29-32
Mt 15:21-28

Who Belongs in the Circle?
The readings for the Sunday of August 17th made me think about the times in my life when I was an outsider to an insider group. In high school my family situation was a bit tough my junior and senior year. My pals started drinking at the end of our sophomore year and I joined them. By the end of my junior year I decided to stop.

I would like to say it was my fine sense of right and wrong which guided me, but truth be told I was afraid to get caught and add one more item for the town’s people to talk about… as it pertained to my family. By the beginning of senior year of high school I had moved my social position from insider to outsider. My former friends worried that I couldn’t be trusted, so they stopped inviting me to gatherings. I didn’t for see this coming and it took a good long while to understand their fears and forgive them.

What I learned in this situation is how quickly one can be perceived and treated like an outsider. It didn’t feel good. I was lucky enough to deal with my teenage arrogance and meet new friends who readily accepted me. It was a hard lesson.

So when I think about this amazingly brave Canaanite woman asking Jesus for help, I am wowed by her courage and tenaciousness. Here she was a cultural outsider and seemingly Jesus and his disciples were trying to shake her off. Yet, she persevered as she continued to ask Jesus to respond to the need of her very sick daughter.

For me, Jesus doesn’t come off looking too good here. He responds to the woman it seems not because all are God’s children, but rather because the woman’s logic held forth and her deep belief that Jesus could make a difference in the life of her daughter.

How often have I dared as an outsider to ask a group of strangers who may be smarter, wealthier, tougher, seemingly more important than me for a need connected to physical and/or spiritual wholeness? How often have I been the insider who made sharp despairing remarks about someone who was the “outsider?”

In this coming week when I question what I can ask God for in prayer I will remember the courage of the Canaanite woman. She was not willing for either herself or her daughter to be left out of the expansive nature of God’s love and healing to all children.

Is 22:19-23
Rom 11:33-36
Mt 16:13-20

Who Belongs in the Circle?
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

About a week ago I was with two colleagues from work having lunch at a near-by Chinese restaurant. As we were talking and eating a group of colleagues from my previous place of work were led by the waitress to the table next to ours. I was thrilled to see them as they were always kind and good to me when I worked with them. There was one person with them that I did not know.

It seemed from their reaction that they were as thrilled to see me as I was to see them. When my work colleagues and I finished lunch I said good-by to them and wished them well. As we walked out I told my friends about the women from my previous job. I described the kind of work they did and told them about their personalities. It was delightful to have this opportunity to sing their praises.

The gospel from the Sunday of August 24th reminded me of this recent encounter. I thought about the groups we move in and out of for various reasons and the legacies which we leave behind us. I wondered about my old friends and the new person at the table with them, who did they tell her that I was?

To what extent did their description of me tell her anything about my desire to live a life that shows my belief that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

How does our living legacy give voice to our deeply held beliefs to those with whom we live, work and play? During this coming week I will invite this gospel to guide me both in my inner landscape and outer landscape. Let us hear Christ ask those who meet us briefly or those who interact with us daily, “Who do people say that she/he is?” And does it make any difference that we claim Jesus the Christ as the light whom we follow?

Nm 21:4b-9
Phil 2:6-11
Jn 3:13-17

About sixteen years ago I went for eight days with a group of women in August on a camping and canoeing trip to the northern boundaries of Minnesota; it is called the Boundary Waters. I was asked to bring a bandana on the trip to use as a wash clothe for cleaning. It ended up being used for all kinds of activities. This simple bandana became a symbol to me of an amazing trip which challenged the whole of me, mind/body and spirit.

I became very attached to it because of the memory it held for me. The next month I went off to study at Divinity School. I brought my beloved bandana with me, as I needed as many symbols of my ability to overcome obstacles as I could. There were many times that first year that I relied on many unlikely angels who told me that I could do the work, write the papers, and pass the tests.

One unlikely angel was my Greek studying buddy. We would translate and conjugate and after that we would go swimming. I know had it not been for this angel turned friend, my understanding and appreciation for Greek would have been a big challenge. Later in our school year she went to study in Greece. I sent my trusty bandana with her, sure that it would be a great asset for the sand and dust that would be part of the archeological dig she was on.

Upon her return she was going to travel with her parents abroad. I told her that she should just keep the bandana and share with her parents for their travel. To make a long story short that little bandana has continued to travel with my friend’s parents the last fourteen years. Every so often I get a postcard from the Red Bandana. It makes me smile to think of the simple beginnings of the bandana and the miles it has traveled since I brought it from Target in St. Paul MN.

In the readings for the Sunday, September 15th, the scriptures are full of the importance of the icon of the serpent used to heal the Israelites in the desert and later Jesus uses that image to describe his role in humanity. I think that these scriptures invite me to think about what my presence triggers in others. When I looked at my bandana I smile as it takes me back to my adventure that brought me a new level of confidence. The readings this week invite me to pause, what do people think of when they see me?

I can still hear my siblings and I say, “Places saved,” as we left our seat and headed off to use the bathroom during the television commercial. I don’t remember either of my parents telling us that we should use this phrase for bathroom breaks…must have learned it from my older siblings. It was very frustrating the times I came back and someone had taken my prime place!

I wish that I could say that those days are gone. But it shows up when I am driving and it’s my turn to get into a particular lane and some car pulls up into that coveted spot…I want to shout out, “hey that is my spot, I did everything you are supposed to do to turn to that spot! It’s MY TURN!”

In the gospel reading for September 21st, we hear the familiar story of the owner of the vineyard paying all the workers, no matter when they came to work, the same amount of money. I can hear that unhealed kid inside of me say, “Hey it’s wrong, I cleaned the house, mowed the grass, and cleaned my room; how come she gets the same allowance as me and she hardly did anything! How come…?”

Yet, I must admit that as a chaplain I have sat at the bedside of many a patient and said to those bearing the wound of an unkind and or self-centered life, “God is gracious and all forgiving. God is waiting for you to come, now.” As I think about the gospel reading for September 21st, I meet myself in the twix and between place that lies between the all gracious and forgiving God and the little kid in me that, like the workers who have worked all day long, want it to seem fair.

However as the chaplain seeking to be a bridge between those on the literal edge of this life looking across the unknown sea to the other side, I feel a deep need to be a person of hope and forgiveness.

The first reading from Isaiah invites us to seek the Lord, where He is found. As I live into the strength of these readings I will invite the child within to seek God’s graciousness in all things. Remembering, that as I attend to the daily invitations that place me receiving full payment no matter what time I get to the graciousness of God no matter when I show up.

Ez 18:25-28
Phil 2:1-11 or 2:1-5
Mt 21:28-32

I was listening to tapes on compassion and generosity a few weeks ago. The speaker said that her father always had money in his pocket for street people who might request some assistance. She went on to say that she thought most of the street people would rather people look them in the face and recognize their humanity than just put money in their hand. I have thought a lot about this because I have mixed feelings when I am asked either directly or through a sign for money because someone is hungry.

I have a strong history of giving and not giving money. These street angels conjure up within an appreciation for all that I have, a sympathy and/or empathy for what they may or not have, and sometimes a frustration that their work includes begging from me. Even as I write this I am reminded of the Buddhist monks in Japan who carry a begging bowl to get some of their needs met. They too open their hands to receiving from others what they need today. When I would see them doing this, I would be respectful of their faith that their needs would be met through others generosity.

I have this same respect for our Poor Clare friends, for whom I write my weekly reflections. I am taken back by their lived trust that “our God is a millionaire,” and that the “People of God” are vehicles of that generosity. So as I reflect on the readings for Sunday the 28th of September, I am stirred up by this section of the second reading from Paul to the Philippians:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus.

This reading invites me to regard those that I encounter on the corners of our exit ramps or walking with the same attitude that I hold toward the Buddhist monks or the Poor Clare sisters. Even more challenging I need to hold the same attitude which Christ Jesus has toward the street people.

While I can write this with a certain amount of ease, I must admit that my gut feels shakie as I try to imagine what this may mean in my next encounter. Dare I acknowledge their presence whether I give money or not. Sometimes when I give money I look up just to see if they appear grateful… This readings calls me beyond this as well.

This is powerful and scary stuff. This reading could change my life if I dare to accept the call and challenge inherent in the words! Stop. “Fear not, for I will send my Spirit, and you will be able to do even greater things than I.”

May your Spirit fill me as I seek to open my eyes to your presence on the sideways and byways by all who ask me to share in the gift of your abundance.

Is 5:1-7
Phil 4:6-9
Mt 21:33-43

The Vineyard
In the readings for Sunday October 5th, we enter the world of the vineyard. In the first reading we hear about the owner doing everything necessary to grow wonderful grapes. Instead when it is time to harvest them, the grapes are wild and not good for the intended purpose. In the gospel reading we hear the story of the owner of the vineyard sending his servants to check on his land and the tenants kill them. He then sends his own son and they kill him too.

I think this world can seem far from me until I think about the conversations that I have had in the last few weeks with friends who have prepared themselves intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically for different opportunities. It may be something connected to self care or an opportunity to use their talents in new ways.

I have recently had a number of conversations with people about their ability to achieve different levels of excellence and self care. I have been struck in these conversations that for so many of us we have done all of the work to create an amazing vineyard and yet we find ourselves with wild grapes. Or sometimes the tenants persuade us that we are not capable of accomplishing the making of fine wine.

I am talking about all of the times when I’ve read, attended lectures and even said to others, “Are you taking time to pause in your busy schedule…doing something for you?” Yet when I look at my own schedule it is almost a year since I have had a massage. The tenants inside of my vineyard (my inner Greek Chorus) tell me that having a massage is a luxury and who do I think that I am to spend money that way!? This is despite the fact that I know it very important to my well being and part of caring for my inner vineyard.

I am also talking about those times when I have an opportunity to do something that I have dreamt about doing and perhaps have a calling to do, and other people tell me, “You can’t do that…” They then proceed to go into great detail and tell me specifically why I shouldn’t risk that dream. For me the trouble with those outside voices is that often they match the voices within me; the very voices I have just quieted within.

As I thought about these things I found consolation in the reading of Paul to the Philippians, especially these verses:

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-9

Have no anxiety…no worry it will be okay. Give those wild grapes from your vineyards and inner tenants’ chorus of unhelpful comments to God. And don’t stop there…give those doubts about living a dream or a new opportunity to God in the forms of prayers and requests.

All things being equal, though they never are, lift these things to God with thanksgiving, so your heart can make way for that peace of God; a peace so powerful that it will go far beyond our understandings.

As I give my attention to these assuring words of Paul this coming week I hope to allow this dynamic peace to lead my heart and mind toward new possibilities. Possibilities filled with the best that a vineyard can produce. I need to remember that God is in it all and God’s peace is a bridge that can quiet the tenants whether they are voices in my head or voices on the outside. This peace is so powerful that it can guide our actions into rich grapes and a productive vineyard.

Is 25:6-10a
Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Mt 22:1-14 or 22:1-10

Recently I was asked to do a memorial service for a friend’s brother. The memorial service was held in a nearby town at a funeral home. The circumstance of this man’s death was both too soon and very unexpected. After meeting with the young man’s family it was very clear to me that I needed to be present for the grief that would make itself known throughout the service. Simply said, it was very important to feel and seek to be a vessel of God’s loving presence.

The memorial service had all the components of a Saturday Night Live skit. The urn did not arrive until just before the service and the sound system did not work until the very last song of the service. This also meant that the DVD’s sound was silent as the projector placed the deceased in constant motion, without a voice to inform those gathered what he was saying.

None of these absences were planned. A certain degree of anxiety piled up as the family members wondered how might I work with all of the unexpected challenges. I wondered that as well.

In the second reading from Paul to the Philippians on Sunday October 12th, he tells the readers of his letter: Phil 4:12-14, 19-20

Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul invites us to trust that we have whatever we need for any circumstance. He does not say it will be easy and even that it will go well. He speaks specifically about knowing how “to live in humble circumstances…and later he tells them “My God will fully supply whatever you need…”

So for me this reading touched that place in me that stood before a group of mourners seeking solace a few weeks ago. It reminded me of how I wanted to be a vehicle of healing for those who mourned. So I drew in a deep breath and exhaled a breath of anxiety, and later a breath of not being enough. However, the breath that entered me was not of my making, it came from a God of creativity and possibility.

I looked out to the gathered and I invited them to nod their heads when they were able to hear his deep and affections laugh…and they did. Next, I invited them to remember their last good visit with him and nod their head when that memory came forth…and they did. Finally, as I watched their concern faces melt into a smile and their physical bodies relax into their chairs, I invited them to feel this young man’s presence in a visceral manner.

The earlier anxiety which seemed to be dancing around the room for us was gone and instead the light of his presence filled all of us. Finally, I invited the gathered to become the chorus and join in singing “This little Light of Mine.” I think what Paul is reminding me through this reading and through that memorial service is this; God’s healing presence is not dependent on technology, but rather the profound human experience of connecting through memory.

As this week unfolds, may I be open to all the ways in which God breaks through in the simple and the ordinary.

Is 45:1, 4-6
1 Thes 1:1-5b
Mt 22:15-21

For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.

I have noticed billboards along the freeway that say, “Put your name here…or put your business’s name here.” It seems to always catch my eye even though I have no need for a billboard with my name on it.

As I read the scripture for the Sunday of October 19th I thought about the billboards. In the first reading and second reading, I imagined personalizing the passages. “I have called you by your name, MC, giving you a title, though you knew me not.” In the second reading I imagined Paul praying for me, thanking God for me. Those simple thoughts were very hopeful and in their own way consoling.

In this coming week as I speed through my daily life, I shall try to do something different. I will take one of those billboards that are ready for my name on it and I will imagine it saying, “MC I have called you by name, and I give thanks for you daily.”

Ex 22:20-26
1 Thes 1:5c-10
Mt 22:34-40

“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Every night when I return home from work our two dogs, Hannah and Emmie, greet me at the door. If it is around 5 pm and they haven’t been fed there is a primal motive preceding their relationship motive for their greetings. In that case, they trot their way over to their dog beds and wait for me to fill their bowls with clean water and delicious dog food.

On the nights when they have already been fed, they greet me with the same enthusiasm and wait for me to change into my “play clothes.” It doesn’t matter what happened between me and them in the morning nor does it matter whether I come home full of energy or needing to be recharged…they are there! They are predictable in unconditional love and they are steadfast in their waiting for me to catch up to their dog time and dog schedule.

So what does this have to do with the readings for Sunday the 26th of October? Everything! These dogs have an amazing ability to take in love that is directed toward them. I have never once had either of them say through their dog response to my affectionate… “No really, sorry, don’t pet me I got too much yesterday! Please don’t call me to be your walking buddy today, I would rather watch television!” I think that God, in God’s goodness is there steadily waiting for us, not like Hannah or Emmie, but with even more graciousness than them. God knows the love available in our hearts before we even know what’s on the shelves of our hearts.

God knows the wealth of our light within our thoughts and knowings. Like Hannah and Emmie, God waits for us to discover it within and takes delight when we move out beyond ourselves.

I wonder if we are called to love ourselves as our neighbors so that we can become aware of all that is within us. When I take the girls to the park to run and throw the ball, Emmie starts her “Run for the ball shuffle,” even before I take her lease off so that she can run. She knows what is awaiting her. She knows the smell of the earth and the markers that say, this is my ball chasing park.

I am different from her. I am a bit reluctant to do the “chase the ball shuffle” even if the current situation has all of the markers for joy and pleasure. I am careful not to have the expectation that wonderful things are going to happen. I am grateful when they do happen, yet I guard my expectation until the goodness actually presents its face.

What would life be like if I really loved God with my all my heart, soul and mind? What would it be like if I tapped into the depths of self love from that same place of abundance and dared to live daily the “chase the ball shuffle…?” I don’t know, I may have to give up some of my need to control the unknown, to be open to the possibility of ongoing abundance, to dance with instead of wrestle with the transforming power of God’s love; A love that is rooted in the cells of my very being…dare I? Why not!

Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17
Jn 2:13-22

This pilgrim was sick last week and unable to put forth an entry… now to the readings of November 9th.

A few weeks ago I was part of a wonderful conversation being shared by a young girl in 6th grade and her mom. I had been talking about my strong belief in my guardian angel and then relayed the following story to them. When I was little my younger sister and I would make room for our guardian angels in our shared single bed, the empty space between us gave more room to our angels than either of us were using. As I told them about this night time practice they told me this story.

Faith’s mother would ask her young children each night, “How full is your love tank tonight?” Practically every night there was a request by her children for some loving to fill up their love tanks. Faith commented on how much that practice meant to her and seemed to indicate that she missed the practice, at which point, her mom leaned over and gave her a hug and kiss.

The readings for November 9th are all about the temple of God. We move from the first reading which focuses on the architectural specifics and purposes to the second reading which focuses on the human person being the temple of God’s Holy Spirit. In the gospel, we hear about Jesus finding the temple of God being used as a market place and he responds with “righteous anger.”

As I listened to Faith and her mom talk about their nightly practice around the “love tank,” I thought about the ancient practice of the Examine. The nightly practice of reviewing one’s day to see how well I was able to allow my attitudes and actions reflect God’s call to be loving and forgiving. This practice is done as a way to see in essence how our “love tank” was able to respond to all that we encounter in a day; and then our prayer moves to a point where we ask for that which will fill the tank up for the coming day.

The readings from November 9th invite us to remember that we are vessels of God’s light, love, and forgiveness. As I allow myself to own that reality and potential, I find myself even more aware of my need to make sure that my “love tank” is full. Like Faith I look to those with whom I share daily life and work, be it close geographically or in my heart connection, to help me with that need. However, I also need to turn to the One whose temple I am to be filled with the grace that carries highest octane of love.

This coming week may I allow the grace of love, forgiveness and possibility to fill my love tank; thereby making space for the bigness of God to be the river that flows through me.

Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
1 Thes 5:1-6
Mt 25:14-30 or 25:14-15, 19-21

Two weeks ago I began a new job as staff chaplain for the medical and surgery units of a large hospital. Although it has been three and a half years since I worked at a hospital, I found myself feeling immediately at home. These past three and a half years as a home hospice chaplain has given me new skills in growing relationships that are based both on vulnerability and strength. I hope to use them in my new setting.

As has been true in the past the people who started out on my hospice list to be “new patients” quickly became my most skilled teachers. They taught me about risk and choice, about fear and trust in brand new ways. One of my senior teachers, a woman a little older than 96 talked to me recently about her adventures as a mom and wife of a country doctor. She talked about the hard economic times when families traded produce for health care. She described how she learned to get her groceries during winters where meters of snow fell, how she got her groceries with a small sled wrapping her small daughters in blankets as they went to the general store.

Later in life she described having opportunities to travel abroad. When I asked which country she enjoyed the most, she answered, “I can’t choose as I learned different things from each country.”

Later in the conversation she talked about dying with amazing trust. She said, “I don’t know what’s next, but this life is good, I am sure the next will be just as good.” Her eyes were smiling just as they had during each of the previous adventures she told me about; just as they had as she told me about the challenges of making life happen in the midst of severe winters and getting her first job outside the house at the age of 54 when her husband died unexpectedly.

The gospel reading from the 16th of November reminded me of this hospice patient. She took everything that life offered her and learned the gift of multiplying its gift. She took a snow storm and learned how to use it as an opportunity to make friendships with new people; she took trips to new places and looked for new things to enjoy that weren’t part of the travel brochure.

I have to admit for a long time I could really identify with the man who buried his talents in order not to lose it. The fear of not doing it right or good enough became a lethal response to a possibly wonderful opportunity. I think the gospel story is telling me, “Go for it!” Play with your gifts, see where it takes you.

So as this new week unfolds, may I be embolden by the gospel reading to, “Go for it!” And may I dare to let the stories of my teacher(s) penetrate my fears to a place of having my heart passport ready for the next adventure. For I am sure just like my teacher, that it will be in those adventures that I too will travel and meet the face of God in ways I never imagined.

Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
1 Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

I read the readings for the first Sunday of Advent just after finishing a 15 hour shift at the hospital. My mind was swimming with the stories of people of all ages and with varying degrees of wellness. At the same time that I was working on digesting the readings with their invitation into Advent, my own mental fatigue began to take over.

This fatigue made me laugh as I thought about the gospel invitation of Mark to be awake for the coming of the Lord. I think it is very easy for me to allow mental fatigue to close my eyes and my heart to all kinds of God moments and/or appearances. It is easy to look at all the issues that impact my ability or choice to be present and compassionate. Some of the issues that make me tired are lack of available health care, aspects of poverty especially as it impacts the young and the elderly, and apathy that steal the hope of those who are in their twenties and thirties.

I don’t have easy answers to these challenging issues. However, in the letter from Paul to the Corinthians he reminds me that I have every spiritual gift needed to address that which is put before me. These Sunday readings say to me, “MC, you are but a vessel of the potter. I will put My Spirit into your vessel. Don’t miss being awake to this! Listen up! You don’t have to do alone. However, let that Spirit move in and through you each moment, so that you can be awake!”

It is with the deep hope of being awake that I enter this Advent season. Awake to God’s grace, and God’s love. I hope to be awake to the Spirit’s movement in and through me as I am molded to be a vessel of love creating new life in those very issues that have in the past invited me to sleep.

Come oh come, Emmanuel!

Is 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Pt 3:8-14
Mk 1:1-8

Just last week I heard someone say loudly in the lobby, “Hey chaplain lady!” I kept walking because I am so new I thought it had to be for someone else. I heard it again and turned around. There was the night nurse who had cared for a dear friend of mine a few weeks ago. She wanted to know how she was doing. After our conversation I smiled as I walked away…hey chaplain lady…I had been called a lot of things but this was the first time to be called that.

As I thought about the Sunday readings for December 7th, I was reminded of this incident. The nurse’s voice cut right through and above the noise of the lobby, had she not said it more than once I would not have turned around. How often have I missed the voice that cried out to invite me to turn around, to be in dialogue, to be aware of another? I am guessing it happens all of the time.

When I hear the first reading and the gospel it is easy to imagine a perfect crowd drinking up the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist. However, I think that their message had all the challenges and more that the night nurse had trying to get my attention. What if the message that God is sending us during this Advent seasons is the still small voice within me, am I ever quiet enough inside to hear the invitation to make way for something…someone new in my life?

Dare I get off my beaten path of fast forward to be in the present moment, the only place where God is present? As this week unfolds I want to show up for that which calls me more deeply into each Advent invitation.

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
1 Thes 5:16-24
Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

From Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”
as Isaiah the prophet said.” Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

As a new person working at the hospital, I often hear from others, “You don’t look familiar, who are you?” I have my easy quick response, “I am a new staff chaplain at this hospital, I serve the medical surgery patients.” Most of the time, people are satisfied with this answer, it seems to tell them what they want to know.

In the Sunday readings for December 14th, the leaders and the priests are not asking John the Baptist a simple question, they want to know, “By whose authority are you doing and being who you are?” Later, Jesus would be asked the same kinds of questions.

Here it is the third week of Advent, am I any more ready to answer the questions, “By whose authority are you doing and being who you are?” than I was the first week of Advent? John the Baptist answered with who he was and what more he expected of the One who was to come, than what he himself could be or do.

What difference has Advent made in my life this year? Am I clearer about who I am and who I am not? Dare I believe and proclaim the message of Christ whom we celebrate during this season? The scripture is full of stories of people whose lives were dramatically changed due to an encounter with Jesus the Christ.

In the remaining days of Advent, I shall seek to be not only drawn to the Light, but also be transformed by the mystery and grace of Emmanuel.

Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17

This entry is now in its third rendition. Not due to the editorial comments of a friend who reads my near about weekly entries, but because my computer keeps shutting down. I have been thinking and writing about St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the invitation he gives them to:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful. Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17

This reading is placed at the end of one very busy week in the life of a Christian. The book ends of the 4th week of Advent and the Feast of the Holy Family make way for the celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This is a week when we change our daily patterns to make way for all kinds of gatherings to celebrate community and family life as we define it. This is not always easy and yet smack dab in one of the busiest time of the year this reading is here to remind me what it means that Christ came into the world. That Christ came to call me to more.

As I look into a new beginning I shall read this message to the Colossians as a way to greet and move into the New Year. And then when I allow myself to wallow in the fear of not being enough I shall remember: “And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.”

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