Journal Archive 2009 CYCLE B

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We Must Choose, So Choose Wisely
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
The Feast of Christ the King
Revelation 1:5-8

Christians in the late first century faced persecution from Roman authority. To keep their hopes alive they gleaned snippets from the story of Jesus’ life creating a narrative of him as a harsh and bellicose protector wreaking vengeance on their enemies. The Galilean teacher who instructed his followers to love their enemies was far from their thoughts. Jesus restoring the severed ear of the servant who accompanied the soldiers sent to arrest him was no model for their savior. It strains the imagination to picture the narrator of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount comfortably reading the description of Christ the avenger in The Book of Revelation.

There’s no fool-proof defense against the pitfalls of being what’s known disparagingly as a Cafeteria Catholic. We all must choose from a multitude of dishes. Many are willing, both officially and unofficially, to tell us what belongs on our plates. A close look, however, reveals that they often simply recommend their own tastes.

Since picking and choosing from both scripture and ongoing teachings of our Tradition, is unavoidable, how can we best go about it? Here are some thoughts for us all:

First, acknowledge that winnowing is inevitable and take responsibility for our choices.

Second, choose with an eye toward living the way of Jesus as totally as we can imagine.

Finally, choose within the context of the Church’s entire wisdom. This doesn’t mean listening to those in the church with whom we agree from the onset. Unless we’re positive that we have all wisdom, all honesty, all knowledge and all sinlessness, we need to pay close attention to those who strongly disagree with our assumptions. Alas!

There are those who find this process loathsome. Answers, they maintain, should come from on high clearly stamped with divine approval. To that we can all say. If only . . . .

Rumors of Jesus’ Retirement False
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfeild
33nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 10:11-14,18

Christians often think that God raised Jesus from death into semi-retirement. When we say in the creed that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father we imagine him on sort of an extended Saturday afternoon watching football or working in the garden while we occasionally interrupt him for this or that favor. We assume that his remaining duty consists of returning when earth ends to hand out public rewards and punishments. The gospels give a different picture.

Mark, Matthew and John all portray Jesus as still actively achieving the Kingdom. He isn’t leaving those who work for God’s future on their own. Whether he sends the Advocate (his Holy Spirit) or accompanies us himself, Jesus labors by our side for the new world God promises. We accomplish our work not separately but in tandem with him.

What does it mean: we work in tandem with him’? It means that when we strive in a hundred small ways to make life richer and more harmonious, we’re not pointlessly dreaming. When we struggle for a better world for our kids and all kids: a world without killing and starvation and coldness, we’re not being hopelessly naive. Even though we occupy an astoundingly minute place in this universe, we have a roll in its ultimate destiny. While reality is vastly beyond both our imaginations, and our explanations of it are laughingly inadequate; human love, forgiveness and effort to build something good play a significant role in the Creator’s vision.

The demands of moving through life with such faith are often overwhelming. That’s why we rely so utterly on one another. We see now through a glass darkly, St. Paul wrote. Together, and with Jesus, we feel our way, inch by inch, toward a future guided by an unutterable love.

Through God’s Eyes
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
32st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 9:24-28

When I was three, I ran away from home. Well, I walked four blocks until I couldn’t see any streets I knew, thought better of it and decided to head back. But for those four blocks I was sure that my mother didn’t love me and I was on my own. I was alone.

As it turned out, my mother did love me which she proved, I guess, by giving me a spanking and making me stay inside for the rest of the day. More importantly, that night she fed me (including dessert!) and tucked me in with a story and a kiss so that I fell peacefully asleep. Those four blocks and fifteen minutes of misery were all but forgotten.

Jesus’ companions in first century Palestine were convinced that they must constantly insure God’s loving care for themselves, their children and their land. Their relationship with God was often more a source of tension and anxiety than a source of hope and courage. It doesn’t matter how much God loved them or how committed he was to their welfare; they were convinced that he had to be served, placated and praised. That conviction was reality for them.

Was God distant from them? That depends.

Through God’s eyes his love was total and without condition; through the people’s it was conditional and dangerously unpredictable. The problem was that their eyes, not God’s, led their hearts.

Did Jesus take away sin?

For all who came to know his total love and saw him as the presence of God, he certainly did. He was neither a judge handing down a lenient sentence nor a friend willing to pay their fine. Jesus ended their separation from God by changing their point of view. His entire life was God’s loving story, his hug, his reassuring kiss before sleep and his greeting first thing in the morning.

Believing In Jesus Is Believing In Ourselves
Thoughts on the Second Reading by Joe Frankenfield
The Feast of All Saints
1 John 3:1-3
“Hey, look; I’m no saint. What do you expect from me?” The person sitting across the room from me wasn’t asking a question. He was telling me to stop making observations that put him on the spot. We both laughed and relaxed but, eventually, the issue became unavoidable: not what I expected of him but what he expected of himself.

To life as well as Jesus lived is uncommon but not unheard of. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible either. The point of Jesus’ life isn’t that he’s better than anyone before or since. The point is that he most powerfully revealed God’s love for us and most clearly demonstrated what we humans are capable of.

John’s gospel quotes Jesus, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.” This is the central focus of Jesus’ teaching: God’s love frees us to actually love the life God is offering to humanity.

Our countless failures, our dumbness, our cussedness makes such optimism hard to swallow. That’s why we’re more comfortable believing things about Jesus that we are believing Jesus. But the issue for Christians isn’t believing strange and unusual things, it’s living strange, unusual lives with an eye to such lives eventually becoming accepted and ordinary everywhere.

The point of honoring saints isn’t to put their pictures on the walls and occasionally mutter “Wow!” as we walk past them. It’s to acknowledge that their lives demonstrate what we’re all capable of. It’s to strengthen our own dreams of the persons we can be. It’s to open our visions to the scene of a world full of saints: a world full of ordinary people living justly and lovingly on a planet finally at peace.

To have such a vision and live it is to have the Spirit of Christ.

Who Gives To Whom: Keeping It Straight
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 5:1-6

Sacrifice was central to Jewish faith in Jesus’ day. To assure blessings for their nation Jewish priests regularly offered God animals and food in Jerusalem’s temple. Given this experience, Jews could easily make sense of Jesus, God’s perfect son, offering himself to his Father as a sacrifice that would never need repeating. That scenario worked well for them. It doesn’t work so well for many of us.

The idea that God wants something from human beings, let alone a life, in payment for our shortcomings, holds little power over our imaginations. The idea that we offend God who, in turn demands satisfaction for our affronts seems rooted in past ages of kings and despots or contemporary pockets of chaos where warlords and crime bosses rule.

On some deep level the very experience of Jesus who loved so deeply and selflessly that he accepted death rather than abandon us clashes radically with the picture of a God who views us as beholden to him or keeps a ledger of our deposits and withdrawals with him. Such a God is too small, too much like us at our worst.

Sacrifice isn’t passé. It’s necessary for life and beauty and love to grow. Every parent knows this. Everyone who loves a friend, strives to better the world by her work, everyone who brings peace by forgiveness and patience know this. Everyone who absorbs evil rather than passing it on to others knows sacrifice first hand.

We honor sacrifice. We pray for the strength to sacrifice in our lives. We remember Jesus because he brought life wherever he walked and didn’t retreat from it when it cost him everything.

For us, this is Jesus’ revelation: God sacrifices for life. We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it. God doesn’t demand sacrifice; God sacrifices for us – with us. Awesome!

Wanted: A Bigger God
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 4:14-16

I didn’t get to Mass last Sunday. Johnny was sick and I was up half the night with him. I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I hope God understands and gives me a break. Okay, that exact conversation never took place but countless people have told me such tales. Their concern is deep-rooted but a few basics can help allay them.

Jesus worried about people’s too-human perception of God. He tried to wrest his listeners away from their small God with instructions like the Prodigal Son. Later, the disciple who wrote Hebrews described Jesus as a high priest who, having lived through human difficulties, sympathetically presented people’s case before God. Both reassured their listeners that, whatever their failings, God understood and loved them.

From the beginning we believers have given ourselves the intimidating task of convincing an unimaginably powerful God to care about us. What makes this task harder is that we harbor the sneaking suspicion that, if we were God, we probably wouldn’t bother. Something about the whole system seems unreal.

We live in a universe measured in billions of light years. Most of reality lies beyond our perception let alone our explanations. The God who creates such immensity is surely more than a blustery old king; an all seeing, strict parent; a kindly, generous old uncle or a nasty, vindictive next door neighbor. The God of our time is either infinitely beyond such figures or the God of our time doesn’t exist.

Still, we have a hard time moving beyond those images. We hang on to the God-as-wary-parent or the God-as high-school principal idea even when their shortcomings are painfully obvious. Why? What do we fear losing?

We’ll never have an adult Church until we have an image of God rooted in our adult experience.

Wanting God’s Will (Generally)
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 4:12-13

“Be careful about what you wish for,” my uncle used to tell me, “you might get it.”

We say with absolutely certainty that God watches over us. We know that God loves and stands by us day in and day out. Such security buoys us in rough seas. Still, a caveat whispers in the back of my mind when I hear those assertions: think what you’re saying.

It’s certainly our faith that God is with us, creating us at every moment. It’s also certainly our faith that God creates what he loves and loves what he creates: us. But that would also be all of us. There’s the caution.

We want God to love us and our kids and our friends but do we want God to love our enemy and his kids and his friends just as much. Do we want God to care about our enemy’s welfare and dignity and hope as much as ours? Do we really think we see with God’s eyes when we assume that he’ll bless our enemy only after we’ve whooped him into submission?

Our faith acknowledges, sometimes begrudgingly, that God loves and is faithful to all people, not just the ones we think worthy. God loves my enemy of the moment, be that spouse, relative, neighbor, an opposing politician or a dangerous foreign national as much as me.

When we pray: Our Father, who art in heaven . . ., it’s instructive to stop and think to whom the our in Our Father, refers. When we take solace in the knowledge of God’s faithfulness and care for us, it’s enlightening to recall that God is equally faithful and caring of everyone regardless of how we judge them.

It’s always been a sobering thought that when I pray for the world’s welfare, I may be actually be praying for God to stop me from succeeding in my fondest goals. It’s a reality check.

Thoughts on the Second Readings
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Joe Frankenfield
Hebrews 2:9-11

Brothers and sisters: He “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.”

When the first Christians attempted to make sense of Jesus and explain him to others they faced the embarrassing fact that he had been executed by the Romans as a third rate political agitator. Jews, awaiting a messiah to establish God’s rule and free them from Rome found that heretical. Romans smirked at the idea of a God crucified in of one of their backwater provinces.

Some of his followers placed Jesus among the prophets who, they remembered, had frequently been persecuted, even executed, for speaking God’s will to the powerful. His death credentialed him as God’s reliable spokesperson.

Others noted that Jesus had announced the arrival of God’s promised New Age which, everyone knew, was to be preceded by the persecution of God’s faithful by those who resisted it. His death announced the coming of the Kingdom.

The writer of Hebrews understood Jesus’ death as proof of his solidarity with humans so that we would know that God identifies with our welfare and shares our most difficult hardships. Jesus’ death guaranteed our participation in his resurrection.

All these understandings of Jesus’ crucifixion shared a focus on God’s relationship, God’s communication, God’s identifying with us.

Christianity suffers from the tendency to obsess over the mechanics of salvation. Just exactly how – at what moment – by what act, did Jesus accomplish our eternal happiness? We sound like teens in love asking one another, just what is it that made you fall in love with me; when did it happen; how did you know? That’s a great excuse to speak sweet nothings but it’s not the occasion of a profound discussion. On a less romantic level, it’s a question geared to gaining some level of control over what is, ultimately, a mysterious relationship.

God loves you simply because God loves you. That was Jesus’ message. Live all your life in total awareness of God’s love for you. If you do that, God’s love will transform you and the world through you.

God’s love assures our happiness and Jesus’ whole life was the touch of God’s love. That can’t be parsed or proven but we know it’s so.

Hope’s Execution
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
James 5:1-6

I learned in grade school that Catholics say confusing things. For instance, my teachers taught that Jesus died for my sins. How could that be since I hadn’t even done them yet? “You’ll understand when you’re older,” they told me. I never did. I learned the theory, of course, but it was more distracting than helpful.

To understand Jesus, and what it means to be his followers, we must focus on Jesus’ message. What he cared about and what he spent his entire public life preaching was the opportunity we have – rooted in the divine promise and power – to be part of God’s future. There’s a new way of living coming, a new way of doing business, a new way of getting along as a human family.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Forgive one another without keeping accounts. Love your enemies. Do good even to those who harm you. Care! Work for the welfare of the whole world because the whole world is your family and it’s where you live. This is the path to your fulfillment. This is the way of God. Jesus was absolutely clear. Absolutely ridiculous; dangerously foolish; impossible; treacherous: those who resisted him were equally clear.

We look at our own times and ask who is killing Jesus’ message? Who’s saying what in the papers, before the cameras and microphones, in public meetings – and around the closely-watched kitchen tables of our land?

The issue isn’t who killed Jesus two millennia ago. It’s who’s killing the hope he brings today; who’s mocking the promise while bowing to the statue.

The faith of a people isn’t measured in the number of or the names upon its places of worship. Faith is measured by the harmony of a people’s hearts with the heart of its God. Where are our hearts; where are our voices?

Weighing the Cost of Winning
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankfield
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
James 3:16 – 4:3

Two weeks ago, during president Obama’s address to congress about his health care proposals, a representative shouted, “You lie.” It was an astonishing moment. Everyone knew that people were holding different solutions for our health care problems. Everyone knew that passions were running hot. But everyone also knew that certain behaviors were out of bounds – even in this tense situation – and accusing the president of lying during a formal speech was one of them. The accusation of lying stops conversation cold. There’s no reason to continue.

When our arguments grow heated and we believe that important values are in jeopardy, we tend to grasp whatever weapons will overwhelm our opposer. We forget that we all sail in one very small boat. We need everyone to row if we’re to reach safe harbor. There is no other vessel around if this one sinks. We’re going to have to live together and rely on one another for a long time. Swinging lethal weapons – even with a just cause and victory assured – in such a situation endangers everyone.

The early Church faced many situations when warring passengers put its tiny boat in jeopardy. The contending parties were so caught up in their value that they forgot the fragility of their craft. Historians tell of entire Christian communities that vanished as a result of internal strife.

People can decide that the nobility of their cause justifies a fight to the death. They can convince themselves that they can accept the loss of their boat if necessary. In their passion they can also forget how many others they doom to a deep grave.

Our Church is a relationship among ourselves in communion with God. It exists only with internal good will. The withdrawal of that good will has mortal consequences. The loss is immense to those directly involved; it’s beyond counting when we consider that community’s potential for service beyond its membership. To maintain our trust in one another’s good will is essential if we’re to accomplish the task God asks of us and we’ve accepted.

Praying Love Alive
Thoughts on the Second Readings
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Joe Frankenfield
James 2:14-18

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

Every successful person prays. The husband of a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary once told me that he always valued his father’s advice to remember why he had married his wife and what he loved about her. “Sometimes I just quietly look at her when she’s unaware of me; sometimes I bring her flowers for a trait I love about her or I just give her a kiss for the same reason.” That’s one of the best descriptions of prayer I’ve ever heard.

Staying aware of life’s goodness and one’s deep longing for it in the face of everything that distracts us from it is prayer. Some prayer is explicitly God-centered. Much more is life-centered: directed to the works of God rather that the Creator behind the work.

We’ve all experienced losing heart. It’s devastating. Our reason for going on dims and the élan that accompanies the drive for life shrivels. We suffer a sense of being overwhelmed by life and, at the same time, betraying ourselves. It leaves us wounded. It’s also an occupational hazard of taking the Christian way seriously.

Only a person breathtakingly oblivious to life’s reality can overlook the frustration and pain of living the way of Jesus. Our world promotes loving those who advance our interests. It views doing good for those who hinder or are distant from us as naive: sweetly admirable but non-essential and, ultimately, foolish.

If we want to hold on to our dream of a world that’s truly peaceful, where every man and woman can look each other in the eye and say, “We’re all in this together,” where we can say to those who struggle to live in dignity, “We’re standing with you,” we have to pray. We can’t face that tremendous goal day in and day out without constantly refocusing our hearts on the beauty of the dream.

The gaze, the flower, the kiss is a prayer for ourselves as much as it is for the love of our lives.

A Faith For Others
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
James 2: 1-5

Watching small children play soccer is great fun. They swarm. The ball goes right and the swarm runs right. The ball goes left and the swarm runs left. Watching their coaches is almost as much fun. “Johnny, help Billy.” “Susie, pass the ball to Gretchen.” “Kids, play your positions.” Their patience and senses of humor verge on the heroic.

Learning teamwork isn’t easy. Some of us never quite get the idea. Our earliest Church leaders put a lot of their energy into getting their communities to play together. The Acts of the Apostles tells of a dramatic incident in the Christian community’s earliest days. Two disciples, Ananias and Sophia, withheld some of their wealth from the customary community control. Peter publically criticized them whereupon both fell dead. Though the penalty hardly seems to fit their crime, the story definitely makes the point of how essential the community (and, supposedly, God) viewed each person’s commitment to the commonweal.

Many in the Church today lack a deep awareness that we don’t exist simply for our own welfare. God is creating us as much for the world’s good as for our own.

In the past the Church viewed its primary responsibility to those outside it as convincing them to think about and worship God as we do. More and more we’re realizing that such converting is at the service of the more ultimate goal of bringing the entire world to the justice and love of God’s Kingdom.

None of us has the slightest hope of realizing the vision of universal human fulfillment without the entire community’s – in fact, the entire world’s – cooperation in God’s Spirit.

Christian life is a team action.

It’s not primarily about my life, my meaning, my salvation. It’s about the world’s. Together each of us finds our fulfillment in that work: in Christ’s work.

A Faith Lived
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27

Ted Kennedy’s death this week reminds us of the good one person can accomplish. Granted the extraordinary opportunities that his family background and high political office afforded him, his extraordinary energy and willingness to put himself out for others’ welfare were both effective and obvious.

What was little noted during Kennedy’s lifetime was the importance of his faith. Interviews with those who worked with and knew him well revealed that he frequently went to Mass during the week and prayed daily. In a recent discussion of Kennedy’s life Tom Oliphant, a newspaper columnist and friend, recounted how he had once asked Kennedy where his determination to work for the poor and disenfranchised came from. Kennedy responded, “Haven’t you ever read the gospels?”

I’m not touting Ted Kennedy as the perfect man. I’m not asserting that his solutions to our social problems were the only valid or even the best ones. I’m saying that his life illustrates the strength that faith offers: the strength to keep pursuing the promise of human life in the face of whatever difficulties, dangers and failures the work entails. All who knew him agree that Kennedy strove to do that and that he stood on the foundation of his faith as he stretched toward justice.

Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, said that we should believe in God because if he doesn’t exist, we’ve lost nothing but if he does, we stand to gain immensely. Many accept his reasoning. It’s clever but it utterly misses the point of faith.

To live is an astoundingly good thing. It is also difficult: full of hardship, struggle and failure. To keep going, to hold on to the dream of human fulfillment – not just for oneself but for everyone – demands great energy and courage. Faith, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu or any other, is the foundation of such courage. It’s a gift from the Creator. It can’t be explained. It needn’t be justified. We possess it for our sake and the world’s.

None of us will ever receive a greater acknowledgment than to have those who’ve known us say that, in spite of all our weaknesses and failures and plain human dopiness, we loved life and gave ourselves to make it better. That’s being true to faith.

Unfolding Revelation
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 5:21-32

Once every year, when I was growing up, the pastor at Mass would read from Ephesians where Paul counsels wives to subordinate themselves to their husbands. I can still hear my father say to my mother as we were driving home, “So, did you hear the sermon today, Ruth? Don’t forget it.” To which my mother would reply, “It was stupid and you can forget it.” I was never quite certain whether my dad was serious or just teasing. I never doubted that my mom meant every word. Paul and our pastor not withstanding, that’s not how it worked in our home. That wasn’t how it worked in my friends homes either.

My family and most of my friends’ were Catholic. Everyone accepted the Bible as God’s word. On one level, we reacted simply: Paul was then; we are now. On a deeper level, we had an innate understanding that God shows us what’s good to know as we discover it. Revelation, like all God-given life, is a messy, evolving process.

As much as it disturbs the sleep of those charged with assaying and protecting what we’ve learned about life and life’s Creator, God reveals himself in all of creation and Jesus reveals everywhere his Spirit acts. Everyone has something to add to the Conversation. God stays the same; Jesus is a perfect touchstone of what we need to know about life and God but our understanding of what we’re given depends on how we experience life. Both life and our experience of it change constantly.

We listen to Paul and thank God for the wisdom he left us. At the same time, we set aside his words that don’t square with what we know about living our faith now. Those who follow us will do the same with our words and wisdom. We move ahead with full confidence in the Spirit of Jesus guiding us and, as a community, we will find an ever closer harmony with our creator and the future he’s giving us.

Called To Get On With It
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankenfield
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 5:14-20

The-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket conversations are a favorite sedentary recreation. The young cite the previous generation for trashing the universe. The middle-aged bemoan the stupidity of political, economic or religious powers. The old are sure that the youngsters will never measure up to life’s call. Whoever we deem the culprit, the game’s the same and most of us, myself included, take the field at the slightest opportunity.

Over the years though I’ve noticed that the people who are most involved in life and most effective in making it better rarely step up when someone lobs the first woe. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy to play. Maybe it’s that they don’t want to waste their time plodding down a path leading nowhere. My best guess, however is that the people moving life along don’t view the world as a hopeless morass and they don’t enjoy kvetching as though it were. My guess is that they’re too intent on the possibilities of life and focused on realizing them.

Catholic Tradition finds faith, hope and charity to be the foundation stones of life. Hope allows us to look at the heart of life as it is and find there not just the promise of progress but the means to make the progress happen.

Hope is not naïve. It shows neither strength of character nor deep faith to look at our world and break into rapture at its imagined perfection. Those with a modicum of sense know the vast distance between how life is and how it could be and should be. Not only do they know that fact, they share the immense pain it visits on millions.

There’s evil in the world – but the world isn’t evil. God knows that, else the planet would have been a cinder long ago. Our mere existence demonstrates that God finds people good and full of potential to be much better. Those in harmony with God see that.

There are more interesting things to do than pitch woe into someone’s basket.

Imitating God: Finding Ourselves
Thoughts on the Second Readings by J. Frankenfield
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Normally we’d dismiss someone who suggested that we act like God as a nut. How absurd! How could anyone imitate God? Still, Jesus taught this. So did Paul. What were they thinking?

One of the most famous, most loved paintings in the western world is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It captures the feelings that human beings have experienced for ages when they look at the clear night sky. The awe and joy of simply being alive to see such a sight is overwhelming. Those of us with a Christian vocabulary can hardly miss recalling the Genesis passage where God expresses his own joy at the same starry night. Hearing God’s joy and knowing our own we begin to understand how we imitate the Creator.

The more profoundly we see life, the more deeply we allow ourselves to experience life’s goodness, the more sharply we allow ourselves to feel the pain of a diminished life, the more we are in harmony with, the more we imitate God.

A strain of stoicism has run through Christianity from its earliest centuries. Popularly, this has led to an attitude of life is as it is; wisdom is to simply follow the rule; don’t get emotionally caught up in things. Where such thinking exists, it betrays our faith.

When Jesus loved and longed to see the people around him free and joyful so much that he willingly risked his life for them, he wasn’t acting with cold propriety. He wasn’t following a rule. He was living his love, his passion – ultimately at the cost of his life.

After his death, those who had known Jesus realized, this was God loving us: God showing himself. This is what it means to be God – and what it means to be human.

God passionately loves life and rejects everything that diminishes it with all his being. The more we imitate God, the more we are human.

Looking Deeper: Finding God
Thoughts on the Second Readings by J. Frankenfield
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24

“I wish I knew that what I’m doing made a difference,” said the middle-aged man sitting across the table. “I know it’s how I support my family but beyond that I just don’t seem to be doing anything that matters. I market fancy lighting fixtures: who cares!”

Matthew tells the story of a young man who approached Jesus asking what he had to do to find eternal life. Jesus invited him to set all his concerns aside and follow him. Whether he was too attached to his own way of doing things or simply afraid of setting off in a totally new direction, the young man didn’t accept. He turned down the opportunity, saddening both himself and Jesus.

That a person who was, by normal standards, successful and got that way following the community’s rules would be searching for a better way of living should make us stop and think. What was he looking for? Eternal life? The phrase the writer puts into his mouth, can mean many things but it distills to a life united to God or, setting aside religious language, a life that makes sense in the grand scheme of things. The young man was asking the same question that we all face: what’s this whole thing really all about? What am I doing here? What difference does all this make: you, me, everything?

Jesus answers the man’s question with a standard response: do what you’ve been taught. When the response comes back, life still seems empty, Jesus invites him to enter a deeper discussion where the vision mirrors our deepest dreams, the promise as well as the risks are immense and the journey’s map will be written anew every day until the arrival.

Jesus invited the young man to become a mystic but a practical one, one concerned with the everyday realities of life in a way more profound than he had ever tried. Every human being gets that offer every day. It is the gift of faith to have the courage to take it up.

Will we?

The Eucharist’s Union
Thoughts on the Second Readings by J. Frankenfield
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 2:13-18

For years I’ve watched children come to the altar for their first communions. Some get so excited that they almost skip down the aisle. In a kind of religious education reality check many have also told me that their enthusiasm is as much or more about finally doing what the grown-ups do than from the joy of sharing Christ, the promise of God’s Kingdom. Walking forward as a full-fledged part of the group and not having to stay in the pew or go with crossed arms for a blessing that publicly marks them as still a little kid is like finally graduating to the grown-up table at Thanksgiving.

Being part of the group – those who share the Spirit of Christ and live out the love of Christ for the world – is essential to the Eucharist. The children have good reason to be excited. With any luck they’ll become more excited as years go by. They’ll learn how large and powerful the community is that Christ has immersed them in.

Our children have the hope of growing to realize that they’re part of a community not bounded by the walls of their parish, their diocese or even the Christian Church. They are part of a people filling the world whose lives are moved and guided by the same Spirit that moved and guided Jesus.

We can teach these children to ask more profound questions of people than what set of dogmas, laws or rituals sustain them. We can learn to respond to the Spirit of love at work in people before we parse the language they use to discuss that Spirit. We can teach our children to live with, learn from, even thrive because of differences. What we can’t afford is to pass on our history of allowing differences-become-divisions to dilute the Spirit’s energy for love and justice in our world.

When we take Christ into our lives at communion, God joins us to every other person who lives by his Spirit regardless of their faith-language. The Eucharist unites people, it doesn’t divide them. We can teach this.

Practical Mystics
Thoughts on the Second Readings by J. Frankenfield
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1:3-14

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; I’m tired of hearing about Jesus,” a young man told me once. “Parents, teachers, priests and sisters spent endless hours convincing me that I should know about, believe in, honor, rely on, love, obey and worship Jesus. But the entire relationship with was an obligation like the one I had with this strange uncle that my parents expected me to respect and love even though I seldom saw him. It was artificial and manipulated.”

We all assume that we know our faith: not just the doctrines and practices but the basic stuff: what our lives and the world and God are about. We’re busy living not obsessing about what living is. We try to cooperate with God; we don’t spend hours pondering who God really is. We run on spiritual inertia because it seems easier, more practical. We don’t need the anxiety of raising basic questions. We focus on what we’ve decided are the tasks at hand, the ones we’re used to, the ones our community agrees with.

Still, Karl Rahner, the Catholic theologian, wrote that if we’re to discover the meaning of life and God, the foundation of life, we have to begin by looking deeply into ourselves and our world. He went so far as to say that in the future Christians would become mystics or they would cease to be Christians.

Mystics continually search themselves and the world around them for reality without assuming that they’ll completely understand either. We must become practical mystics. We can’t afford to sit in a cave and ponder but neither can we afford to rush from project to project simply doing. Human progress has placed too much power in our hands and made the pace of change too fast for either option to be acceptable. We’ve got to ponder and do at the same time. To fail at either is to place ourselves and those whose lives we touch in jeopardy. We become bulls in life’s china shop.

On her death bed a wise woman said to me, “I think a lot of what I was taught about God was useless. It made my faith childish, not child-like. I wish I had thought for myself more. It would’ve made faith more helpful. I guess I’ll learn soon enough.”

The time is coming when we and our children will all be mystics – or nothing.

The Risk of Faith
Thoughts on the Second Readings by J. Frankenfield
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Corinthians 12:7-10

A while back I attended a children’s piano recital. The kids walked on stage full of nerves, worked their way through their pieces, then bowed and, summoning all their self-control, forced themselves to walk rather than skip into the wings on the cloud of relief they were feeling.

When all the performances were complete the room filled with applause and parents’ assurances that the music was amazing, wonderful and very nearly, if not absolutely, perfect. What captured my attention, however, wasn’t the music but the fact that the children had agreed to perform in the first place and to do so in a room full of adults. I found it astounding.

A friend once asked me how he could know for sure that he had faith. I reminded him that he has gotten out of bed that morning. To his response that I was being more than usually inane I told him that I thought the essence of faith is giving oneself to life with no proof that it’ll make any difference.

Everyone has ample reason to fear that their efforts to improve life, to accomplish something of lasting value, to make a difference are dicey at best and probably doomed to failure. But faith that God works through her moves a person to give life her all in spite of the seeming odds that it will matter little.

This is what Paul was getting at when he boasted of his weaknesses. To acknowledge one’s shortcomings and ineptness as well as others’ and still spend oneself to advance life is the greatest honor and praise that one can give the Creator. There is no higher praise of God’s power and goodness; no greater hymn to his love.

Like kids walking on stage full of misgivings we offer our world the best we have counting on God to make it enough.

God will. We have his Word.

On God’s Ground Floor
Thoughts on the Second Readings by J. Frankenfield
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15

Parents and teachers of small children have taught me something important: they move in their children’s plane when they talk with them – even on the floor, if that’s where the kids are. They make their actions fit their children’s world, their voices fit their ears.

At first I thought this demeaned the children but watching more closely I saw that it was deeply respectful of them. It acknowledged to the children that something good and important was going on in the world they inhabited. It was worth the adult’s energy, even discomfort, to enter their realm, their experience, their play, their conversation.

Seeing these adults meeting children helped me view God’s becoming human differently. The point isn’t that humans are so hopelessly offensive to God that they must be cleaned up and made presentable. It’s not that God has to come to us because only he can give us the bath we need. God wants a relationship with us and that can’t happen if God and we stay in different realms, whether they’re rooted in fact or simply in the limitations of our perception.

God knows our goodness and the beauty of our world because He is creating both. He wants us to know that he’s part of our lives and destiny. God wants us to know him as he is: loving, totally committed to our welfare, reliable and guiding our progress by his Spirit in our hopes and visions.

We always face the danger of creating a god in our image, with our limitations, restricted vision, prejudices and narrow interests. By getting down with us God made real changes in our lives. We are less likely to create a god like ourselves because of the powerful person of Jesus. We are less likely to believe that we have to wrench life from others to secure our own because of Jesus. We are more likely to believe in the future because of Jesus. We are free of the fear that we must please some awesome external force because of Jesus. Life is different for us.

As inexplicable as it is, God loves us, respects us, is happy with us and longs for our happiness. God is on the floor with us.

Jb 38:1, 8-11
2 Cor 5:14-17
Mk 4:35-41

The readings from Sunday June 21, remind me of the stories of people who have asked me to pray for a miracle for them as they dealt with the various physical challenges which brought them to the hospitals where I have worked.

Today one such story stands out in particular. The patient was a young woman whose name was Tony. I was at the bedside of Tony every three weeks when she came in for chemo therapy for her lung cancer. The cancer came as a surprise as no one in her family history had cancer. The lung cancer was a shock added to the surprise because she was the picture for healthy living, because she hadn’t smoked, hadn’t hung around folks who smoked etc.etc. She was a strong believer in prayer and a regularly attended church gatherings, she was in essence a “holy woman.”

She was an amazing woman and in the midst of her goodness, cancer took over her physical body. Much like Job we said the right prayers, held our hands open trusting in God. Much like Jesus asleep in the boat, Tony’s support team would try to wake Jesus up with a lamentations and prayers for cure and healing.

When Tony died there were many faithful friends who wondered if Jesus decided not to wake up to the needs of this faithful servant. There was no Lazarus addendum to Tony’s physical life she left behind a husband and several young children. She believed so firmly that Jesus would heal her that she pushed aside people’s suggestion that she stop having children.

I am sometimes left wordless with the many Tony’s with whom I have spent time; especially if it is their first life encounter with the story of Job. Perhaps this is exactly where the sleeping Christ has the opportunity to heal the Tonys with whom I work, in that place where words cannot touch the power of God’s presence.

As this new week unfolds I will seek to make way for the ever present grace of God to have voice.

Ex 24:3-8
Heb 9:11-15
Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
Memories have flooded me this past week as I thought about the readings for Sunday June 14th. I kept seeing the various meal tables that I have sat at in my life. The memories ranged from our family meals to large family reunion gatherings. Others were of sitting alone in my apartment to the meals I have shared with friends. Finally my mind shifted from eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches shared on a day hike to a lovely meal with several courses shared with friends who knew me at Divinity School. Not all of the gatherings are ones that I would want to repeat and others I would step back into in a flash.

The question that kept coming up for me was this, “How open is my table today?” The other day I sat next to a woman on the train who was very interesting, but had terrible body odor. I had a really tough time being focused on what she said instead of her hard earned perspiration which resulted from her being a mail woman. In the hallway at the hospital I met a young man wanting free food tickets even though his family had just brought in supper from McDonalds. I was reluctant to trust his need for food tickets for the morning.

In the gospel reading for the 14th of June, Jesus sends his disciples out to get the room ready for the meal. The famous painting always shows only the 12 disciples and yet I wonder who else was there? Did Jesus invite everyone who came to the meal or where there folks who heard that Jesus was hosting a Seder meal for Passover and they decided to come? I know that the disciples were not always crazy about the folks with whom Jesus would get involved i.e. the little children, the blind and the lame, the women and the Gentiles. How open were they to special meal?

I want to open myself to the bigness of what Jesus modeled and yet I am sometimes so grateful for the humanness of His followers. I am glad that we celebrate special feasts that lift up Jesus’ generosity and love for His disciples. As they give me hope that I can, with God’s grace, share with others that Sacred Meal that fills my hunger and quenches my thirst. This change may start with one invitation carefully given at a time, but in time it may happen from with ease from a place of abundance and trust.

Dt 4:32-34, 39-40
Rom 8:14-17
Mt 28:16-20

When I was in college I had an opportunity to be an intern in South Chicago as a community organizer. I was green behind the ears and had a lot to learn. During both my application process and my actual internship I asked God for signs to guide and direct me.

I grew up in a small town and the job I applied for was in an area in South Chicago that was quite different in so many ways. I don’t know if I was more worried about being accepted or about not being chosen. God was very gracious to me. I asked for a certain amount of money for the summer, I received it. I asked for a safe place to live, I was housed in a convent.

Throughout the summer there were little angels who would show up as I worked in the neighborhoods. It might be the smile of a stranger or a community person willing to help organize change in their neighborhood. Over and over again my days were punctuated with God’s guidance and love.

In the readings for June 7th we are invited to enter the journey of the Israelites through the desert into the Promised Land through hindsight. The writer of Deuteronomy is inviting the people to remember the extra-ordinary faithfulness of God in their journeys. From the sounds of the reading the chosen people needed to be reminded of the specifics, for they had entered a new time of ease having reached the Promised Land and the old days were not in sight.

I have had times in my life, like community organizing in Chicago, where I was so attentive to God’s response to my needs that each answer at that time was like a tattoo on my heart. However, I have to admit that there have been many times in my life when I forget to be attentive and begin to take for granted God’s goodness. I begin to forget if you will “the wind beneath my wings” and my praise to God for God’s steady presence falls to the way side.

In order to become the carrier of the Word of God, I need to keep the awareness of the grace and presence of God in my sight. So as this new week unfolds, my hope is to be as attentive to the extra-ordinary presence of God in the ordinary as I tend to seek God’s presence when I am in need.

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

Although I have never lived in a geographic area that is prone to earth quakes I find myself quite curious about the mile distance from the epicenter of the quake out to the furthest point where some of a physical impact can be felt. I have lived with people who have been close to or near the epicenter and their descriptions of what it is like is scary. In the little town in Iowa where I grew up we had tornados that did a fare amount of damage, but usually it happened in a narrow swath. We also had the benefit of usually being warned before the eye of the storm arrived. I am talking in generalities, I am sure that there are exceptions.

In the reading for May 31st we are given a description of what happened when the Spirit descended upon the crowd. I have some curiosity about how large a group was immediately impacted by the Holy Spirit. How far out from the center of that crowd did the Holy Spirit impact? How immediately were people able to hear others speaking in their own language? What did it feel like in their physical bodies and how did they process this powerful experience? Did the spirit move like an earthquake or a tornado in its impact?

This week as I moved about on the various units of the hospital I thought about the stories of the Pentecost. I wondered to what extent I am open to the power of that spirit? Can others experience the power of the spirit in my life? How often do my works of love create waves of healing beyond the patient I visit?

It is my understanding that the Spirit the Advocate continues to be sent. There are times when rituals and ceremonies call upon the Spirit to bless, heal, and affirm a particular commitment. I wonder though how often I miss the Spirit showing up unannounced for a particular person or situation, or even for myself.

As this summer unfolds, I have committed myself to opening my eyes and heart to the Holy Spirit both in announced and unannounced situations. May this widening attention make room for God’s grace in new and playful ways.

Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26
1 Jn 4:11-16
Jn 17:11b-19

I have somehow got on several unsolicited groups that champion justice issues and stores. So when I open my email I am overwhelmed by the market seeking my retail weaknesses and organizations working on issues that do not speak to gospel values. As a result I can count on erasing several emails for about five minutes before I get to “real” email.

The challenging part about my email ritual is that I often spend less time reading about the justice issues than I do glancing over the latest travel deal. I find myself surrounded by issues that speak to justice and the lack of it in the city where I live, the country I call home, and the world that contains all of the above.

The readings for May 24th continue to invite me to wake up to the power and call to love all. Jesus talks in the gospel about consecrating his disciples in truth. My question if I can get beyond the guilt of my email collection is, “What truth do I focus on? How do I know where to put my energy?” Is there a holy balance to “If you want peace work for justice?”

I recognize that I am in deep need for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost cannot come too soon. As I head into summer may I learn how to allow the Holy Spirit fill and guide me to live the truth be it in my daily emails or in the issues that make themselves known in my daily life. Jesus also said, “The truth will set you free.” May I open myself to the freedom of the Spirit.

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 Jn 4:7-10
Jn 15:9-17

When I lived in northern Japan about thirty years ago, it was not unusual for an unknown person to see me having lunch with another North American friend and to pay for our meal. The waiter or waitress would point the person out to us, (usually a man) and he would smile as we mouthed our thank you to him. It was an amazing experience and quite frankly I didn’t know how to respond. In the city where I lived there were very few white foreign women. I never did more than smile and thank the person.

I have to admit that I haven’t done this for a stranger unless they have approached me for money, in other words I usually have to be asked by the stranger. The other thing that is often true about me is that I get nervous when I am out to eat and I think that a waiter is going to try and seat someone at my table. Now you may ask, “MC has that ever happened to you in the United States?” I would have to answer, “No, but it did in other countries.”

In the readings for May 17th, I am invited to love everyone. In the first reading Peter has just finished having a dream where he is invited to eat from a meal placed before him which has foods which Gentiles eat, but not faithful Jews. He is hesitant to eat, but God directs him to eat all of the food. He wakes from his dream and there before him is Cornelius a Gentile who is to guide him where God wants him. Shortly after this, the Holy Spirit is poured down upon whoever is listening, no matter what table they are sitting at… The Holy Spirit came to all.

As stated above I have a long way to go before I let go of my boundaries that keep strangers from sitting at my lunch table. Yet this reading is not bogged down my small pre-described locations such as a restaurant. It challenges me to realize that I am not some special ambassador of Love’s goodness, but rather I am blessed to share in God’s bounty with all with whom I share everyday life.

I shall try this week to be open to the multiple ways in which God feeds my deepest hungers through encounters with I call “the stranger.”

Acts 4:8-12
1 Jn 3:1-2
Jn 10:11-18

This past week provided for me a variety of different experiences. The first part of the week I worked, prepared for a colonoscopy, had the colonoscopy, was called as part of my jury duty to be on a jury, and then back to work again at the end of the week.

As I ventured into each experience, I wondered how the voice of the Good Shepherd would reach me in these very different venues. I think in the past I heard the gospel for May 3rd in a rather cut and dry manner. I always assumed that I would be one of those sheep who would catch on quickly. In the many circumstances of this week, especially being a jury member of a criminal case, I had to remind myself to listen to what was presented.

How might the Good Shepherd voice be presented? I can think of many instances where someone close to me gave me great advice, but I couldn’t hear it coming from them. However, another person might say the same thing to me and I acted as though it was the best advice I had ever heard and for the first time! I guess I was blessed in those instances that the Good Shepherd was willing to throw his/her voice to another messenger with the same message.

The Easter message that keeps tapping me on the shoulder during this Easter season is that I need to be willing to be open to whomever God brings onto my path to guide me. I can be as slow as the leaders of the synagogue who are questioning Peter and the disciples in the first reading from Acts. Who is God using in my daily life to guide me to that holy union? What opportunities invite me to new ways to the shepherding of God?

This week I will seek to remember, in the Easter encounters, Jesus the Christ breathes peace upon his friends and disciples as He invites them into a new reality of truth. It will be with the same peace that I will be invited to hear the voice and guidance of the Good Shepherd.

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
1
Jn 2:1-5a
Lk 24:35-48

A few weeks ago an email came to me. It said, “You have got to watch this, it gave me goose bumps!” love Anne. So despite the odds of me watching it, (as I delete a lot of those messages) I watched it. It was an English program which provides unknown people who think they have talent to perform.

A somewhat middle aged woman, with gray wavy hair, a somewhat maternal appearance was to perform. She said that she hoped to be like “woman’s name” (that I did not know) someday with her voice. She did not strike me from her appearances as someone who could be famous. The audience laughed out loud at the woman’s dream, the stars judging the woman rolled their eyes and I questioned the possibility of her dreams.

As soon as the woman opened her mouth I felt so embarrassed at my quick judgment of this woman. She was awesome and I realized that this is what gave my friend goose bumps. The audience and the judges became very quick as this amazing woman’s voice left all of our judgments far behind and continued forward in beauty.

This was about two weeks ago, no longer is this woman an unknown, her name is Susan Boyle. I am still taken back by the whole experience of watching and listening to her. I still feel embarrassed by my arrogant quick judgment of her abilities to bring beauty and sound into a large auditorium.

As I read and listened to the April 26th gospel reading of the road to Emmaus, I thought about Susan Boyle. I thought about the powerful message that her voice and unassuming presence brought to so many of us who had written her abilities off, just by looking at her. It made me wonder what was it about the Risen Christ on that road that day, that the two disciples didn’t recognize Him. Was it their belief that they didn’t believe that Jesus the human was capable of being God/Man? Was it the clothes that He had on, or the appearance of His face? Even when they did recognize Him in the breaking of the bread, what was it about how he did it, that their eyes were opened?

This week with these questions in mind and my recent experience of judging Susan Boyle by her appearance, I wondered more often, “How often do I miss opportunities to meet the Risen Christ in the people that I judge by the number of tattoos or piercings they have? How often am I blinded by my busy schedule that I race past the One who is waiting for me to have lunch and visit?” As this Easter Season continues, I will judge less and be more open to the stranger on the road to Emmaus. And with the grace of God may I experience goose bumps as I encounter the Risen One in these unexpected encounters.

Jer 31:31-34
Heb 5:7-9
Jn 12:20-33

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

I have had many times in my life when I have used the phrase, “I doubt it.” I remember when I was waiting to hear back from graduate school to see if I was going to be accepted. People would ask me if I thought I would get in to the school that was top on my list, in my in breath I thought, “I doubt it,” and what in my exhale breath I said out loud, “I hope so.”

I know that for the things I really want to believe or hope will happen, I often hedge my bet with “I doubt it.” I know it seems like a silly way to think and plan, but somehow at least until recently, it was a way to protect myself from being disappointed.

In the gospel for Sunday 19th, we encounter yet another experience of a disciple being afraid to accept that their beloved Lord had risen from the dead. Peter and the other disciples did not believe Mary Magdalene when she came to them to tell them she had seen the Lord; in fact they ran to the tomb to check the story out. This week we hear again the story which gave Thomas his nick name, “Doubting Thomas.”

Maybe Thomas is like me, afraid to believe that his deepest hope is true, that the Jesus has risen and is the Messiah. Maybe like most of us he has had experiences where his dreams and hopes didn’t take place and his response to that disappointment knocked the wind out of his sails.

What is really amazing to me is that when Jesus addressed his disciples with peace and invited Thomas to touch His wounds, Thomas didn’t deny his previous statement but rather moved to a statement of faith, “My Lord and God.”
As I walk this Easter season’s invitation to live the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection I want to leave behind my disclaimer “I doubt it,” to history as I live into the Easter reality, “My Lord and My God.”

Holy Week and Easter
Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Col 3:1-4 or I Cor 5:6b-8
Jn 20:1-9 or Mk 16:1-7 or Lk 24:13-35

Beginning with the readings on Palm Sunday up until today Easter Sunday I have looked for experiences that would connect my cognitive hearing of the Holy Week readings to my heart. It is such a temptation to float through the week going through the motions and ending up on Easter Sunday standing empty at the tomb. I wanted this year to be different. I wanted the power of the stories I heard in the liturgies to be a transforming agent in the experiences that I lived this past week.

On Tuesday there was a young woman sitting in the corner of the 8th floor of the hospital near the stairwell and she appeared to be crying. I thought about just walking past her, but didn’t. I asked if I could be of service and she shook her head no. In the reading of the passion on Palm Sunday, Simon, the Cyrenian is asked to help Jesus carry the cross. It doesn’t appear that he had a choice. When I saw the woman near the stairwell I had a choice…

On Good Friday was the 9th anniversary of my mom’s death, I found myself during Holy Week retracing that week with mom and my siblings. In one breath it seems like a very long time ago and the next breath it was like yesterday. The mother of Jesus and the other women who followed him stood at the foot of the cross and bore witness to his painful death on a cross.

They watched, yet could not change the reality happening before their eyes. We, too, sat beside my mother’s bed and were unable to stop her physical body from shutting down. Just before she took her last breath she opened her eyes and then breathed out, we could see the relief in her face as she breathed her last breath.

It was the middle of the night, Wednesday and a patient was in the intensive care unit with septic shock. I entered as the physician spoke very directly and compassionately to the patient’s son-in-law about the critical condition of the patient. I sat with him and kept him company.

During that time the patient regained consciousness. When we finally entered the patient’s room a few hours later we were surprised to see and hear the patient speaking. Her son-in-law introduced me to her and asked if she would like a prayer; she said yes. Following the prayer the patient informed me that I had called her son-in-law the wrong name! I smiled and thanked her.

When we went down to the room I expected to meet someone who was unresponsive. I had in my mind what I might say to her son-in-law and to all who were trying to make a difference. Instead I found quite the opposite. A few days after Jesus died, Mary Magdalene thought she was going to freshen up the corpse of Jesus in the tomb, instead she found it empty!

She ran to tell the disciples and they too were unsure what to do, until the angel gave them a heads up. “He is Risen!”

As this Easter week unfolds the Risen One waits for me. May I be open to the unexpected ways Christ will appear.

Jer 31:31-34
Heb 5:7-9
Jn 12:20-33

I have had the opportunity to move a number of times in my life, both geographically and from one job to another. One of my greatest fears about these transitions, especially when I was younger, was that people would forget me. In my thirties I began the practice of choosing items that were either in my office that I was leaving or part of my daily life that I would give to people for particular reasons. It was my way of planting a seed so that I would be remembered.

I have learned with time and experience that what helps me remember people in my life are the stories which I share with them. I have a friend, who I remember every mother’s day. When both of us were single and didn’t have children we would have a mother’s day picnic, if we weren’t able to be home with our birth mothers. Even though she has now become a stepmother and grandmother, I still remember with sweetness these picnics.

I have friends and colleagues that were part of tremendous learning experiences in my life as a chaplain. To take this circle of people out of my memories would be as difficult as extracting my spine from my back.
In the first reading for March 29th from Jeremiah, the Lord tells the house of Israel,

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The readings during this Lent, especially those from the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) have been full of examples of ways that the Lord reached out to the people of Israel, be it to feed them in the desert or select a king for them. We have also heard from Isaiah as he sought to console and remind the house of Israel who were exiles in a foreign land that the Lord was with them.

What I have experienced in myself and connect with the House of Israel is that we can experience all of the miracles in the world, but if we do not allow the miracle to become part of heart relationship with God, we risk forgetting. Lent is a time given for us to slow down enough to wake up, to be aware of the relationship which God calls us. It is a powerful covenant which the Holy One has written on our hearts.

As this fifth week of Lent unfolds, I will seek to be more attentive to that ongoing love story with the Holy One which gets played out in everyday life; both in the quiet of my heart and through God reaching through others in everyday interactions.

Eph 2:4-10
Rom 8:31b-34
Jn 3:14-21

Two weeks ago, I spent time with a dear friend and with her mother. Her mother had been placed on hospice a week and a half before our visit. Ann (my friend’s mother) and I had shared many conversations over time about prayer, forgiveness and the importance of showing kindness toward all. During this visit, we talked about being on hospice. She and I had a great conversation about how she felt about this part of the journey. She talked with confidence about the “guy” upstairs being in charge. He would take care of her and after she died He would take care of her husband.

The other night when I went to sit with Ann and her family as she prepared for the very last part of her journey. Her family members were gathered round her bed for hours. There were times of story-telling, laughter, prayer, tears and quiet. All of us kept our eyes on both Ann and her husband, John. Ann and John had been married sixty plus years. John held Ann’s hand throughout the vigil and periodically would close his eyes. As I watched him I wondered how he was making peace with this part of their journey together.

Ann died shortly after John let go of her hand and moved from his wheel chair to a near-by chair with more support. All of us were quiet immediately after she died and then each of us in our own way allowed the grief to express itself. I went out to a piano in the assisted living home and played until my sadness gave voice through my tear ducts.

In the readings for March 23rd I am reminded that God has a long history of being faithful to a love affair with us, whether we are able to accept His grace or not. God is there in those times of “twixt and between” as well as seeming absence. In the second reading and in the gospel, I am reminded that God held back nothing from us, not even His son Jesus, in order that I would have the grace to accept His love.

For 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.

In my conversation with Ann a few weeks ago, she was certain that she was part of this amazing gift. Her certainty seemed to guide her breath in the final moments when she crossed from this world to the next.

I have been helping with the care of John the last couple of days. His pain is palatable and yet he has given me so many stories about Ann and him. He seems to know for his heart to heal he must give voice to those stories and give way to that firm believe that his beloved is in a better place. His courage awakens in me a deeper appreciation to move toward my own Lenten hope.

Intellectually I believe that Lent is a time given to me to deepen my relationship with the Holy One and to let go of those things that keep me stuck at the banks of Babylon. My deepest hope during this time is that I might be open to those experiences that help me cross the bridge from my intellect into my heart. It is no small task to move from idea to deep knowing.

As I move into this coming week, may I cross that holy bridge with the certainty that “the guy upstairs will take care of me” and that the message of John 3:16 invites me beyond the banks of Babylon to that place that Ann now knows in fullness.

Ex 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17
1 Cor 1:22-25
Jn 2:13-25

As I read and heard the readings for the Sunday March 15th, I wondered, “What difference has Lent made in my life this year?” In the first reading from Exodus, I wondered, “Are there ways in which I have built a golden calf rather than follow the lead of a God who is always there, but not always physically visible?” Is there a commandment that I most need to attend to in order to find the way back to my heart, where God will speak?

The gospel reading from John asks of me to look within to see what patterns in my life keep it from being a sanctuary, a place for God’s grace and energy to dwell? In the news today we are watching our golden calves fall, as well as those who have been considered the “high priests of our golden calves.” It is easy to make statements about “their greed and poor management,” however today’s readings give us a private opportunity to claim our part in making all things holy or not.

Lent invites me to face unabashedly those thoughts, patterns, activities that keep me from rooting myself in God’s grace and presence. It is often hard for me to acknowledge that which separates me from the Holy One. I hate to admit that I make choices away from love. Yet if I do not claim that need for the cleaning of my temple, I keep myself from is healing and transformation.

I still have time, I just need to say yes. Yes, to a God who wants nothing but my unity to a profound love. Yes God, yes!

Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Rom 8:31b-34
Mk 9:2-10

The other day I glanced over to a young woman with Down Syndrome who had the very best smile on her face as she danced to the music on her head phones. She had a look of sheer pleasure as she moved in a circular motion. Only a few feet away sat a family member who appeared to be smiling as the young woman continued her flowing movement.

As I continued down the walkway of the hospital’s lobby, I wondered about the history of this young woman and her family. What was her family’s response when they found out that their infant was born with special needs? How did friends and relatives congratulate them?

After a few moments of these thoughts I realized that all of my questions were really about me, not this woman’s family. I wondered if I would feel blessed by God with a special needs child? I wondered how long it might take me to be taken up by beautiful moment and delight shown by this young woman?

On the 8th Sunday of March, the first reading has Abraham responding to God’s request to sacrifice his son. Abraham and Sarah had waited for a long time. Now this beautiful dream was to be sacrificed in obedience to a God he trusted. At the last moment, an angel is sent to stop the killing of Isaac. God is assured of Abraham’s love and sends a ram to sacrifice instead.

The reading in the gospel of Mark, Jesus invites three of His disciples to journey up the mountain with Him. Here they encounter with Jesus two of the great prophets, Moses and Elijah, and the presence of the most high God. Peter wants to create a camp and hang out for a while. However, Jesus tells them not only must they return to the people at the base of the mountain, they must also keep this mystical event a secret!

As I thought about the young woman whom I saw the other day I started thinking about the readings for the 8th of March. In our culture births are anticipated with great excitement and anticipation. It has been my experience that upon the news of a fetus with Down Syndrome that there is a period of initial sadness and re-adjustment. I am sad to say that for some there is even the question whether the pregnancy will be continued.

For Abraham, the challenge of God is quite the opposite. He is asked to let go of his beautiful son as an act of obedience. In the case of parents with a special needs child, God is inviting a different kind of obedience and a broadening of how “perfect and beautiful” will be defined.

The young woman the other day seemed to be in her own God moment, as she turned and moved to the sound coming through her head phones. I could only stay a few moments and watch her pleasure. I had other appointments to make and expectations to complete. Yet like the Peter, I really wanted to just hang out and watch her dance. All of these thoughts rolled together, the story of the young woman and her family, my reticence to leave the lobby as I watched her joy in movement.

I think that is perhaps how God stories from long ago reformat themselves for today’s world. It may not be Abraham building an altar with Issac to sacrifice is son, instead, an unexpected twist or turn to the stories happening in our lives. At the same time, the voice of God and the appearance of the Holy Ones may be seen in the simple movement of a young woman with a huge smile…if we but have eyes to see.

Gn 9:8-15
Mk 1:12-15

My beloved black lab Hannah has taken on a new pattern since we moved to the Southwest. She has decided that there is nothing better than rolling full body on the dirt in our yard. Every time she does this she returns as a chocolate lab to the door to be let in. However the expensive looking dog rubs off with a towel and cleans off with a painful bath. Hannah is comfortable with dust and dirt, but is not fond of water as it pertains to getting cleaned up! Every day we go through this ritual. I keep thinking that there has to be a way for Hannah to get her dirt rub without the routines that come with it.

This week we mark the beginning of the season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday we do it with the sign of the cross on our forehead. Lent invites me into a chance to look at my daily patterns to see if they are leading me more or less into God’s abundance love and forgiveness. In plain words, how might I open myself to new opportunities to respond to life’s blessings and challenges from a calm and loving spirit, rather than one reactive and full of judgment?

I guess the ashen cross becomes my doorway into the journey of a forty day pilgrim. It reminds me that I go forth with my hopes and Lenten practices not by myself, but with the One who went the way of the Cross long ago. Just inside of the doorway I am invited by the readings of Sunday March 1st to follow Jesus into the desert. Here there is plenty of time to (like Hannah) roll around in the desert dirt. So often I am not even aware of my patterns that keep me afraid of Gods abundant love, i.e. not allowing someone to help me do a task or job because I am suppose to do it by myself.

Or there are those patterns which I respond to a friend or coworker in an arrogant or demeaning manner. It might be the tone I use or even the way I look at him or her when I say something. This desert time is meant to be empty enough of other distractions that with the Grace of God and my openness to that grace there is hope for healing and wholeness. It is here and during these forty days of Lent that I hope to sit with Jesus coming to grips with who I am and who I am called to be.

I find that I always start off Lent with a list. I would like to think that my healing over some of these things could get taken care of in just one Lent. I am not sure if that is God’s need, but it would be great.

This morning when I rubbed Hannah down with the towel I wondered if it was the rub down at the end of being called a “dirty dog” that was her prime motivation for the desert rub! Maybe the dirt and rolling around have just become the way she gets what she wants, love and attention.

I hope that my appreciation for Lent isn’t about me needing to stay away from God in order to know God’s graciousness. Actually I think that Lent allows us to travel into a deeper place of God’s love for us, letting old wounds be healed on another level and knowing a deeper draw to God’s kingdom in the here and now.

Gospel of Mark 2:1-12

In the last couple of weeks my professional work has entered my personal life. I have had two young girls with whom I have spent time die, one was 12 and the other was 6 years old. I spoke of the twelve year old back in November when I went to offer her some healing touch and teach her the use of imagery as a way to address her physical pain. The six year old was 3 years old when a friend and I use to babysit for her. She died suddenly. Then a dear friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and due to her age and the location of the cancer they have decided not to take aggressive measures.
I feel bombarded. As I sat quietly this morning trying to take the last two weeks in from a place of prayer, I realized how badly I needed a chaplain to be present to me, to link me with the Holy. My intellectual response has been to try and console the family and friends of these lovely souls.

The gospel reading for the 22nd of February tells the story of a man who is paralyzed and his friends bringing him to Jesus for healing. They couldn’t reach Jesus by normal means so they made an opening in the roof and lowered his mat right in front of Jesus. Jesus, seeing the whole of the man, wanted him to know full healing of mind, body, and spirit. We know the impact of this healing on the man, but nothing is said about the four friends, the crowd, or the scribes that were gathered.

The scribes thought that Jesus had pushed the edge when He chose to heal the wounded part of this man that was not part of his physical cells, but rather his spirit. During my prayer this morning I found myself being the one needing healing, the scribes who questioned whether it should or could be done and the friends who wanted more than anything to see this friend of theirs healed.

I stayed a long time dealing with my inner scribes who seemed to think that if I could just buck up, after all, these people are not my blood relatives. At the close of my prayer time, it was the Holy One who looked up and said come closer. Breathe in My presence. Allow me to nurture your spirit’s roots so that you know my healing of your heart.

As this coming week unfolds I hope to allow this Holy Breath into those places needing healing. Perhaps I have been given my marching orders for Lent, allowing myself the vulnerability of being lowered into the sight and presence of the One who calls us to wholeness.

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Cor. 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

Just yesterday I entered the room of a patient wearing a canary yellow gown, latex free gloves, and a mask over my nose and mouth looking much like a duck’s bill. Prior to being invited into the room, I knocked on the door. The patient and her family had no idea who was knocking and when I entered I looked much like every other hospital staff person covered up.

I teased her about all of the special things I had to put on in order to visit with her, was she perhaps from royalty? Inside I couldn’t help but think about what it must be like for her and other patients whose door list special precautions for people to attend to before entering the room. I think that I would feel very isolated. However, the simple humor seemed to bridge that awkward entrance and beginning of the conversation.

In the first reading from Leviticus and the gospel reading from Mark on Sunday February 15th placed before me are very different texts both focused on how to encounter one who is a leper. The first text states that one who is leprous should be marked and declared and must live separate from those who are clean/pure.
In the gospel reading of Mark, Jesus does not seek out one with a leprous condition nor does he walk away when the leper ask Jesus to make him clean. Instead he says, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

I am struck with the number of things in our lives that can make us a modern leper. For example: being an overweight person, having a pronounced stutter, being gay or lesbian, having facial scars from bad acne, being a conservative thinker among liberals or visa-versa, living with a mental illness. All of the above conditions and situations, according to the first reading, have the potential to have one group or another shout out to the other “unclean.”

I must admit that I have groups or types of people whom I encounter who push me to my limits by my “attitudes and judgments” encountering their “attitudes and judgments.” In the gospel reading this week, I will seek to take off my mask, my special clothing and my gloves (seen and unseen) to find new ways of encountering the one who challenges me to be healed of my leprous conditions…with the grace of God.

Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Cor. 9:16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

This week a woman named Ann, who worked in the administration of our hospital died. Ann had worked about 25 years for this hospital system. Although she shared an office space that was one floor below the first floor, she was anything but hidden from all those with whom she worked and interacted.

Because of her impact on the lives of people in the health system, there was an open house in the hospital chapel where people could come and remember Ann. One of her colleagues put together a simple arrangement of candles, a book where guests could write, paste in or draw pictures; this was put on the altar. At the end of the day all would be given to her family.

The chaplaincy department hosted the day of remembering. As one of the chaplains I had an opportunity to hear from people stories about Ann. The first person to come was someone who worked in the doctor’s lounge. She told me how Ann would help her put clean plastic bags into the garbage cans when she would empty them. Later in the morning her boss talked about how Ann was indispensable in learning about the people and the needs of the hospital.

All day long the stories about Ann continued. People talked about how you could ask Ann for anything and she would smile and pull it out of her purse or a section of her desk. Her boss talked about how she would call families back a day or two after she forwarded their need to the appropriate people, just to make sure that their needs got met. No one’s family was too great or small for Ann to take time to respond to their need.

In the gospel for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time/February 8th Jesus walks through the door of Simon and Andrew’s home. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Jesus “approached her, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her.” Later in the day Jesus met the needs of all kinds of people with all kinds of needs. In both reading and hearing the gospel, I am struck that Jesus walked through the inner doors of people’s lives and offered them presence, time, and hope.

Every day I see many people come through the doors of our hospital. They bring with them stories waiting to happen, to be heard and to be healed. On Friday I heard about the miracles which Ann created through her presence to the needs of others and caring for them in a way that was gracious. She brought out the best in people through her bag of hope, out of which she pulled small nosed pliers as easily as time to hear a story.

This week I hope to carry that same spaciousness which can lift a fever from the sick as easily as a smile can give hope to a stranger walking through the door. I hope Mark’s gospel and the stories of Ann can remind me that all things are possible from a place of love and respect.

Deut. 18:15-20
1 Cor. 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

My schedule has been very full lately; all good things with interesting people. In fact it seems as though there is no lack of good things to read, interesting places to go, and amazing talks to be heard. Some mornings I hear myself address the Creator of All in the following manner, “Okay God, I am going to take a little time right now to breathe and be conscious of you, but today is busy and it may not be until tomorrow that I have time to listen to your part!”

In the second reading from 1st Corinthians Paul invites us to be free of anxieties. He suggests that the unmarried have more time just to be anxious about their focus on God, while the partnered must worry about their loved one(s) in addition to their relationship with God.

For me it is often that human relationship that reminds me of the God presence. It is the child or baby that does or says something that shakes me out of my “busy” adult mind long enough to breathe, to laugh, to remember the God who isn’t limited by my lopsided prayer boundaries!

This week I shall look beyond my anxieties and limitations to experience this loving God in all.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Cor. 7:29-31
Mark 1:12-20

I recently heard a friend tell a story about a morning she spent cleaning fish that had been given to her family as a gift. She connected her experience to the gospel reading on Sunday January 25th by saying, “it would have taken little more than a head nod to leave that pile of fish and follow anyone, anywhere that morning!” I guess I hadn’t thought about the issues surrounding job satisfaction for Simon, Andrew, James and John when they followed Jesus.

I grew up in the Midwest where farming was first a vocation and then a job. The stewards of the land gave to us vegetables and produce, but more importantly they did it in such a way that the land would be replenished by the ways that the crops were rotated and fields were given time periodically to rest. This stewardship took account the financial needs of the farm family, but it was bigger than that.

I see these early disciples much like the farmers with whom I grew up. I think that Jesus saw in them more than young men involved in a livelihood, I think he saw men who saw their work as being stewards of the Sea of Galilee. This stewardship isn’t something that one learns in a morning of cleaning fish, but rather is a relationship between one whose passion sends them out fishing just to be able to smell the air and be surrounded by the water.

What kind of day was it that caught the attention of these young men to an itinerate preacher? Had they heard of the message of the John the Baptist? Had they heard of Jesus? I wonder what else Jesus had said or done that he could invite these compassionate men from the known to the unknown? I know that the gospel says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

As I think about my call as a hospital chaplain I wonder what would move me to follow a new and different call to follow the message of Jesus. I am not looking for a change, but maybe that’s not the important part of the call. Maybe the important part of the Jesus call is to be open to being changed in the ordinary circumstances and in the here and now!

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Isaiah: 55:1-11

Last Sunday I finished my all night call, which begins at 4:30PM the previous day and ends the next morning at 8:00AM, I was hungry. I planned to go to 9:30 liturgy before going home to sleep and I knew it would be quite a while before I really ate a meal again. So I headed off to the cafeteria with my debit card in hand. I chose a delicious looking chocolate donut and headed to the check out. The clerk asked me if I had money as it would cost more to run the debit card than the donut was worth. I explained that I didn’t and was ready to let go of the donut.

The clerk then said, don’t worry you can just have it. Feeling somewhat awkward about the whole situation I asked if I might bring the money down the next day. Before she even had a chance to answer, a person in the other line said, “I will take care of it.” Again feeling a bit embarrassed I thanked the woman who paid for my donut, and headed out of the cafeteria. I must admit the donut looked better than tasted, however, I learned some things about myself.

I want to be independent and pay for what I get. I am willing to forgo the thing if something happens and it appears that I don’t have the money for “whatever.” I go first to embarrassment when someone offers generosity. My embarrassment does not take my manners of expressing thanks to someone who is generous to me.

On Sunday January 11th, the Lord in the first reading from Isaiah invites all of us who are thirsty and hungry to come and have our thirst quenched and our hunger fed. Not only will these bodily needs be met, they will be given in abundance and freely. This invitation goes on to invite the hearer of the word to accept the gift of a covenant which will be everlasting. WOW.

It struck me as I heard the readings that I might not be ready to receive this level of generosity, especially as I thought about my cafeteria experience. I think when I heard this reading before I would feel a smile in my heart and think how wonderful. However, what we are being offered in this reading from Isaiah is more than wonderful, it is amazing! Do I have the openness to accept these gifts of abundance? Am I able to let go of being in control in order that I can open my hands and heart to the level in which I will be fed and made whole? What do I need to let go of in order to respond to all of this?

Both in the last line of the reading from Isaiah and the gospel I am given some clues as to how to prepare. In the reading from Isaiah I am invited to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.” In the modeling of Jesus, I am invited to place myself in the presence of those who carry the message of the kingdom. I am also invited to open my eyes and ears so that when God speaks and the spirit is present, I too, will be able to see “the heavens being open and the Spirit descending…and if I can still myself I may even be fed by the divine food of fellowship where I can hear within, “You are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.”

 

On Sunday January 4th we celebrate Epiphany. Yearly I wonder what it was like for the three kings to 1)follow a star to find Jesus and 2)to make this extraordinary trip based on gut feeling! As someone who has followed gut feelings all of my life I am encouraged and feel exonerated from being challenged for not using logic to make major decisions.

Having just celebrated the first of January and my birthday, I am starting out with great energy toward my hopes and goals for this New Year. Today I am encouraged by the modeling that the Three Kings/Wise Men give us in the gospel reading. They followed the outer light of a star a very long distance. I don’t know the dialogues which were part of the trip, but being human I am sure that there must have been moments of question. “Why are we doing this?” “Are you sure we should have turned right back at that pyramid?” And of course that age old question, “How much farther?”

I then think about the inner questions that they might have had. “I don’t know why this is important to me…did I make a mistake in saying yes?” “I have had these gut feelings before, but usually I have more details to go on…what if this is just a waste of time and expense?” “Why must we go to a land where they don’t even worship the same way we do…what kind of child king is this one?”

In the gospel for the Sunday of January 4th it is said of the three kings:

And behold, the star they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

Ready my heart, mind and spirit Oh God, so that when the star shows up my heart will be ready to follow Your light.

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