Sunday, June 5, 2016

Have you lost focus?

Several years ago my wife found some discounted tickets from Rockford to Arizona for a price we could not pass up.  So our family packed our things and flew the miles to the warm desert state to visit family and experience the world.  It was one thing to see the desert, the cacti, and the grand canyon in pictures.  It was another to experience the true majesty of God's creation in person.   To walk in the sand and heat, to see the sites and even to rest in the shade.   One day during the trip we went swimming at a pool.  Laying there in the shade I watched as the kids laughed and giggled.  Moira was almost two years old.   Her sister was watching her by the steps in the shallow end and her mother had gone to the bathroom.  At some point I dozed off.  I woke to a strange sound.  I don't know if it was Julie yelling or the bubbles in the pool, but when I jerked up I saw that Moira was no where to be seen and her sisters were over by the deep end.

It turned out Moira was under the water.  We got to her before she could drown, but to this day she still has a fear of getting water in her eyes.  I'll never forget those few moments of panic though.  Those moments when I thought my daughter was gone.  The fear of thinking my center, the person we were living for, the child we had been so intimately connected with for two years was possibly gone from our lives.  I can't imagine what that must be like for a parent.   To lose their child first.   It shouldn't be that way, right?  We all expect our kids to out live us, to be there until after we ourselves have passed.  Too many parents experience that right now in their lives, and my heart goes out to them.

In the readings for today, it is even more poignant that these widows had lost not just their child, but their only sons.  In a world where women have no rights, where they must be cared for by their husbands and their children in their old age, this was her center... her focus.. her only hope.   This child would be the one who would make an income for the family, provide them a home, give his mother a life.  Instead her hope was gone.  Her husband was already gone, any other sons as well, and here the last of the lineage was dead before her.  How angry these things make us, don't they?   So much so we blame God for them.  Why God?  Why do good things happen to good people?  Why pain? Why suffering?   Why death?  The widow of Zarephath had the same response.  "Have you come to me to call attention to my guilt and to kill my son?"

It's easy to do that isn't it.  Elijah in response did what we are all called to do.  He got on his knees and he prayed for the boy.  He gave his heart into it, groaning and begging God to make a change.   To restore hope, joy, peace.   He stood in the gap for the widow, bringing back her life to her.   Her focus was restored with the life of her son.   She knew then that Elijah was indeed a man of God because he spoke the "Word of the Lord."   That's a key to remember as well.  Our "yes must be yes and our no, no."   Our word must be truth, we must speak the Gospel as it is, not deviating or trying to make it our own.. it's not ours to change.  God has given it to us in His plan, His way.   We hand it on in the same manner.

Then comes the scene in the Gospel where Jesus performs a similar, but more astounding, miracle.  Unlike Elijah, He does not ask for permission to take the son into His arms, but rather puts His hand on the son of His own desire.   He informs them not to weep and then instead of needing to pray for God's intercession, He simply speaks "I tell you arise!" and it comes about.  The people realize at that moment that history has just changed.  This man is more than just a prophet, this is a man who speaks with authority.  "God has visited his people!"  This widow has been restored, given back her hope, her focus, the thing that makes life worth living.  

I imagine that is similar to what I felt when I saw Moira's head surface, spitting out water and gasping for air.  Relief, concern, but above all hope.   Peace.  That is what Jesus is offering to us today.  Every day we lose focus.   We lose some hope.   The world tears at us and Satan prowls around seeking to destroy us.  The news is depressing, kids reject their parents and their faith, and even the music is filled with drugs, violence, and degrading imagery.   We can encounter Him the same way the widow did, in person, directly, through the Sacraments.   In Reconciliation and in the Eucharist, we come face to face with Jesus who declares to us "Do not weep."   He then can restore to us that which was our focus, that which was lost.   He places himself in our hearts that we might be complete again, that we might have hope for eternal life, that we can know we are cared for and taken care of.   We are no longer on our own, He is with us.

Then He challenges us to go out into the world with Him.   To reach out to all of those others who have been widowed by their existence.   All of those who have lost hope, who have no one to care for them, who need food, drink, friendship.   To take that Sacramental presence we receive and become life givers, hope bringers, messengers of peace and joy.   It's only when we become little 'Christ's'  that we can even hope to manage that.   Not to go alone, but to bring Him into every interaction, every thought, every deed.  Mathew 25 tells us exactly how to do that.

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

So are you ready for that?  To feed the hungry, cloth the naked, welcome the refugee among you, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and prisoner?    The world is filled with people who are imprisoned by their own vices, their own sinful natures.   It's our job as Church to go out and give them a reason for our hope.  To meet them where they are, and love them so much we never leave them there.   Instead we journey with them toward eternity, seeking to eat the wedding feast of the lamb with them by our side.   Make a friend, be a friend, and bring that friend to Christ.  We have work to do Church!

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."