Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Keep your eyes on the road!

One of our daughters is learning to drive.  It's a frustrating, fun, and yet dangerous time in a person's life.  You have to learn to look at the road and glance at everything else.  The mirrors have to be checked frequently, the speedometer gauged, an eye kept on the edge of the road for people coming out from hidden drives, between cars, or even just running out of a yard after a ball.  All of this while keeping your eyes on the road.  I remember when I was learning to drive that I had a huge tendency to go where I looked.   If I looked in my left mirror?  I went to the left.   If I looked at a car on the right?  I inevitably went in that direction.   It takes some getting used to in a car to be able to look without going in the direction of our gaze.

We as a people tend to do that though.   We tend to go in the direction of that which we are looking at.  It is how we are designed as a species.   In the brief few days of wrestling in High School we were taught that if you control the other persons head, their body will follow.   It never fails.  I think it works that way spiritually too.   Where your mind is, is where you end up as well.  If your mind is on things of this world?  That's where you'll stay.   If your mind however is on things of Heaven?  Then that's where you will be drawn up to. That's the beauty of the cross.   This contradictory symbol that is so rough, so distasteful... is the method by which God himself draws us into His realm.. into the true reality that is beyond what we can see with our limited vision.

The image of the bronze serpent teaches us a simple truth about God.  It reminds us that like the Israelites in the desert, Satan prowls around seeking whom he may devour.   He doesn't do it by convincing you that you are in the wrong.. rather he gets you to take your eye off the road.  With texting while driving rampant, it is even more clear how quickly something can happen with even just a glance away from where it needs to be. So it is with our spiritual lives... it only takes a moment for us to slide back to where we were.  For something to get in our way, for a stumble to occur because we aren't looking.  It's only when we keep our eyes fixed firmly on Christ, firmly on the Cross... that we can keep going on the correct path.

The thing is we are going to stumble, aren't we?   I tend to do so daily.   I forget where I need to be headed and I find myself in the desert surrounded by those silly serpents.   The key, I've found, is to immediately stop what it is I am doing.. realize that I it is only when I turn it over to God that the serpents leave me, and I fix my spiritual gaze back on the 'road.'

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."

A reflection on the readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Are you coming to dinner?

Today's Gospel has a very familiar scene to Christians all over the world.  The story of the prodigal son has been discussed ad nauseuam for hundreds of years.  The beautiful thing about Scripture though is it that it speaks to us when and where we are.  The message it gives us, while tempered with the ages of Wisdom, has also a fresh look to each of us in each generation.   To me it speaks of God's astounding love and His relationship with us.  Like Saint Paul, I consider myself the foremost of sinners.   That's why I find so much comfort in this beautiful parable.

The first and most important part to me is the way the encounter happens.   The lost son is coming back repentant, hungry and covered in the filth of the world.   As he walks along he's practicing what he is going to say to his Father.  He's coming back begging for a place in the home, not even as a son.. but even as a servant.   The Father though runs out to greet him.   The moment the Father sees him in the distance he does not wait for the rehearsed speech, or for the son to shower and clean up, he just runs out with open arms.  This is what confession is all about.   It's God reaching out to us with open arms and saying I am here, come into my arms.

Then He is the one who cleans the son up, right?   He has a robe put on him, He puts a ring of authority on Him, He has a dinner prepared for him.   God does that work.   We have to come into the house though.  There are those who will say "God puts the robe on us, and that's that."  You still gotta come into the house.   You still gotta put on your table manners, and work to become a better person.  To live up the dignity of that robe you are wearing.   Saint James tells us that it is not just faith.. it's faith and works.. without works, faith is just dead.  The key is letting God work in your life.   It's giving Him the opportunity to robe you, to give you back your dignity, to reveal your status to others through the fullness of life, the joy and peace He offers to those who love Him.

The sad part is that while we are all prodigal sons and returning daily to Him through a process of continual conversion... we are also often the son who remained home... the one who was angry that the others were being brought into the fold.   Refusing to come to dinner because of "them."   We all have a "them."   Be it someone with a different skin color, different faith, political affiliation, or even just a fan of a different sports team.   The refugee is turned away because of 'them.'   The widow and the orphan go hungry because of 'them.'  It reminds me of these meme I saw on the internet that said "I thought to ask God why he allowed people to go hungry today and I was afraid He might ask me, why did you?"   He created us to be the hands and feet of his body... in order to do that we have to be welcoming of the prodigal sons as well.  Are your arms open?  Are you offering them food and drink?  Clothing and shelter?  Or are you refusing to join them at the feast even though all of this was already yours?

It's been 15 years now since the attack on September 11th.   Many of us have allowed that attack to create a world in which their is perpetual hate and a constant 'them.'   Today is a day to remember to pray not just for those whose lives were lost but also for those who took those lives... and for those who would do the same today to their 'them.'

His servant and yours,

A reflection on the readings for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  September 11th, 2016

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bright lights

Back when I was a boy my father used to take me fishing on Flannagan Lake.  One year he bought a portable spotlight that had a million candle power!   That thing was so bright that on a dark, cloudy night you could shine it up in the air and see the light on the clouds.   I used to get such a kick out of catching my brother unaware and shining it in his eyes.  The things we do as kids eh?   He of course would get me back.  For many minutes (felt like hours) afterward you would see nothing but green.   The funny thing is, when it's pitch black out there and someone lights a match.. you get the same effect don't you?   You know that sensation when you're sitting in the dark and someone turns on the light?  It's startling how bright it is!  Even the dimmest of light compared to the darkness is amazing!

In the readings today, especially the one from the book of Wisdom, there is this beautiful rendition of a thought that God is so beyond us that we cannot possibly express who He is in mere words.  The enormity of who He is, is beyond human reasoning.   We have spent thousands of years of human existence trying to figure out the right words, the right phrases, the right metaphors to convey exactly the properties of God.  The author reminds us though that plumbing the depths and experience who He is would be impossible without God himself at the helm steering our thoughts, guiding our tongues.  It is in that light that we have received the revelation of the Incarnation.   Christ is the key to understanding God. 

Christ gives us continual examples of what it means to be disciples, what it means to follow this God that we are trying to be in relationship with.  Today He teaches his disciples that detachment is the key to growing closer.   That giving up everything we have and desire, that relying solely and only on God is the only way we can truly begin to glimpse further the mystery.   St. Paul in the second reading does just that.   Here he is in prison and he sends his friend, the one closest to his heart, back to his owner.   In a revolutionary statement he tells the owner to receive the slave not as a slave, but as a brother.   Considering the time, the thought process, etc.... this was astounding!   Even more astounding is that Paul put others before himself, gave up the one comfort he had left, all for Christ.   That's the detachment Christ is calling us to. 

hyperbole [hahy-pur-buh-lee]
noun, Rhetoric.
1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.
2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”.

Jesus uses a method called hyperbole often in his parables.   This mornings is one that many have used over the years to hate others.   Rejecting their families, their wives, their children... all in the name of God.   That's what happens when we become fundamentalists.   When we ignore the writing methods, the genre, the historic context of what was said.  So what did Jesus mean?  He meant that compared to the love we have for humans, the love we have for God should be first and foremost.   In English we have just that one word.. love. In other languages there are often four or more ways to convey love.   The things I think most of though when I see this verse about hating family is one that Catholics are very aware of: dulia, hyperdulia, and latria.  Dulia is the love we have for each other and for the Saints.   It's a respect, a friendship, a brotherly love.   Family.   Hyperdulia is the love we have for the Virgin Mary.  First and foremost of disciples, the one human who have a complete and unconditional Yes to the Father. It's a little more.  Then there is latria.. that is worship, honor and praise only for God.   That's the love we aim for.   The love of the Father for us, returned to Him.  

In the scheme of things it's like the little parable I started with.   Dulia is like a spark.   It's a little bit of light.  Hyperdulia is more like a match in the darkness.   It's brighter.   Just a little.   Latria?  It's like that million candle power light.   It's so far above and beyond the other two that it leaves you reeling.   That's what we offer to God.   So in comparison the love we have for family?  Looks very dim compared to the others.  That's the thing Jesus is teaching us... that we learn to love God with Latria.... so that He can fill us with His spirit.. who then in turn can give us the eyes of God... so that we can take that overwhelming, blinding love of God and turn around and give it to others.   Are you being a conduit?  Or a clogged pipe? 

His servant and yours, 

"He must increase, I must decrease."  

A reflection on the Mass readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  September 4, 2016.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I'm OK with that.

I am pretty sure I traumatized a little girl last night.   I imagine she went crying to her mother after our encounter.   My new cell phone doesn't have all the settings right and has done some strange things.   Yesterday I sent a text to one of our middle daughters asking her if she made it OK.   She sent back "Who is this?"  I figured my phone had some setting on it or something that kept her from seeing.  I knew she was responding and I had things to do so I would respond in a few minutes.   Less than thirty seconds later she called me.

Me: Hello?
Her: Who is this?
Me: (almost yelling) You mean to tell me you don't recognize the number... and you have no idea who it is... yet you called them?   You know better!  What are you thinking!?
Her: (hangup)

So I look at my phone incredulous.... then I notice the number.   It's not hers.  It's not a number I know at all.  It is the old number she used on her IPOD years ago.  Someone else has it now.  I imagine it was scary to have someone yelling at her through the phone.. this strange girl... this child who is probably a tween or less.   I am sorry.   I am sorry that we live in a world where young children need cell phones that can give them access to strangers and pornography.   I am sorry that there are men out there that will abuse the system and try to get to meet you and do things to you that are much scarier than being yelled at.  I am sorry that you don't know better than to call someone you don't know instead of deleting the message or going to your parents and saying "Hey some strange weirdo is calling me."   I am not sorry that I yelled at you.

Rather I hope you learned something.  I hope you learned that calling someone you don't know is actually dangerous.   That giving out personal information or phone numbers can be as well.   I hope you learned from our encounter.   I hope you do not call people you don't know and don't respond to texts from random strangers... and more importantly I hope you're safe.  I hope none of the things that could happen to you ever do.  And to the parents?  If I yelled at your child?  I hope you comforted her and explained to her all the things I said above.   I hope it was a learning moment for all of us.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."