Monday, December 24, 2018
Allegorically, some people are dealing tonight with the prickliness of the straw in the manger, the poverty and loneliness and the bitter cold of that night. Mary had - a few months previously - gone to help her cousin St. Elizabeth with her birth. But there was no one to return that favor. Mary herself gave birth with no woman at hand, in a stable, with the smell and sound of animals around. How hard it must have been for St. Joseph, too, not to be able to offer a comfortable bed, a pillow, a little fire for warmth, for Mary and Baby Jesus.
For many people, celebrating Christmas is not what I think of when I think of the word "merry". For many, it's not the idyllic Norman Rockwell picture. There are those who are alone or who are sick, or who are both alone and sick. There are those who are lonely in the midst of many people and those who are overwhelmed. There are those of us who are missing loved ones who have passed on. As we get older, we might be missing a whole parade of loved ones, remembering those holidays of old, which we may have idealized over the years.
We heap expectations on the holiday and on ourselves. Homes sparkling, food abundant, decorations perfect. Everyone together and getting along. But often it falls short of the expectations. We don't have to make it perfect. It wasn't perfect at Bethlehem. The most perfect people did not have the most perfect Christmas, in the sense that we often set ourselves up for.
Let's stop to breathe, stop to say a momentary prayer for the stranger we run into who seems harried; for our neighbor or friend; and for our family member who is far from us (either in heart and mind or geographically)....even just a very quick thought sent heavenward in the midst of a very busy day. And let's remember to breathe.
May we all have peace and hope in our hearts at Christmas. May the Christ Child console us in our concerns, in our memories, in our sorrows for loved ones.
May we have a Christmas that brings to us, even in the midst of whatever sufferings we may have, the abiding, deep joy of the birth of Jesus, the peace that passes understanding.
Sunday, October 21, 2018
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," Jesus said, after being crowned with thorns and spat upon, scourged and made to carry his own cross, stripped of his garments and crucified. What an example of forgiveness that is!
I'm not a theologian but I think there is more to learn from these words, too, beyond the lesson of forgiveness.
"They know not what they do," and yet, surely the soldiers knew, in some place in their being, that they were going even beyond their job of crucifixion – unspeakable as it is – going beyond it, by humiliating and torturing someone beforehand. And surely, those who called for the death of Jesus had followed the news of the day and knew at some level that this Man had done good to so many people.
In some ways, I would think, they knew some of what they were doing. But perhaps they didn't know the full gravity of it. Most importantly, they didn't know Who this was!
Today, too, I'm guessing that people who persecute, humiliate or injure others probably know, in some place in their heart, that what they are doing is wrong or unkind; but I'm guessing that often, they don't know who this is.
For one thing, we don't always know what someone has been through. That cashier who wasn't friendly could have lost a child last week. Or, she could have come to work in spite of being in some kind of physical pain, because if she doesn't come in, she will lose her job. What if we treat her with patience and welcome friendliness wherever we find it without requiring it as part of our service?
That mother in the store, who is yelling at her two little children, may struggle each and every day to overcome the abuse she received as a child. She may be a kind, warm parent who studies child development in her quiet moments, and treats her children with firmness but respect. But this day, when she goes out to the store and her children misbehave, she hears the inner voice she grew up with and succumbs to the scrutiny of those around her. In frustration at her children's misbehavior and her own shame, she lashes out. It's only a blip on the radar; it's not who she is. As another customer, observing a few moments in her life, we don't really know who she is.
For those who think the mother in the store should be more in control of her children, we can look at a similar story. That woman whose children are running around may struggle each day to overcome the abuse she received from her parents and the abuse she received in foster homes. When she's in the store, she worries that she will strike out, even though she has never done it; she worries that someone will report her and take her children away, even though she has done nothing to warrant it. At home, she may set limits, but she doesn't usually take the children with her to the store. Today, she did. And we see her. But we don't really see her for who she is.
Outside the store, a homeless woman asks for money or food, and someone calls her a panhandler and tells you that the woman should get a job. We might not know that she actually has a job, but she hasn't been able to find a full time job recently and her part time job doesn't pay enough. We might not know that she did have a place to live, but it got flooded out. Just walking by, we don't know that she has a college degree, or that she used to be every bit as prosperous as the people walking into the store, but for lay-offs that left her without a decent income; a divorce that she didn't ask for; and medical bills that she could not pay.
These people I've been sharing are fictional (except for Jesus, of course!), or they are composites of several different people. But they all resemble, in some way, real people whom I've known, or known about, people who have been shamed or shunned, neglected or wounded. There are so many more, so many worse stories which I know personally, but they are not my stories to tell.
But still, I see someone, often even someone online, and still I occasionally make an instant judgement. We see one aspect of someone, and we often think we know them, but we really don't know who they are.
Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
And he gives us examples of who are his brethren…not those who some of his listeners would have expected. He gives us the examples of the woman at the well; and of the Good Samaritan, the foreignor who helped the man by the side of the road; and of Zaccheus, despised as a tax collector; and of the woman caught in adultery. His followers didn't know who those people really were. They only knew who they thought they were.
But Jesus knew who they were. He always knows.
Father forgive them – Luke 23:34
The least of these – Matthew 25:40
Father forgive them – Luke 23:34
The least of these – Matthew 25:40
Saturday, September 29, 2018
These short, engaging meditations enabled me to see and feel more clearly how Jesus lived, and what he did and does for us, and to draw closer to him.
I am grateful for this lovingly written book which shares with us the deep love of Jesus.
Friday, August 17, 2018
I believe that religion is first and foremost about God…our worship of and relationship with God; and then, also, about our relationship with our fellow human beings created by God.
As a Christian, I believe that religion is also about Jesus Christ coming to our world to redeem us and teach us, teaching us about our relationship to God..."Our Father, who art in heaven"...and about our relationship to other people. "I was hungry and you gave me food…"…(etc., and)…"…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)
As a Catholic, I believe that God gave us the Church to help us with all of the above. I believe the Mass and the Sacraments help me grow closer in my relationship to God; and I believe the Church helps many people with food and other needs, and encourages us to do so personally, as well. But...
Churches are administered by human beings and, as such, are subject, in their humanity, to inhumanity. The sins which the Catholic Church (and other churches) preach against are sometimes committed not only by churchgoers but even by Church leaders (Catholic and others)…and sometimes, as we have been seeing, have even been covered up by Church leaders. This is very wrong. I am so very sorry for anyone affected by this. I can't even…there are not even enough words to express my sorrow for those affected.
For me personally (and I do speak as someone who has never been abused within the Church), I see the Church as both Divine and human; and while I decry the sins and crimes of some of its leaders, at the same time, I appreciate the blessings that come from the rich liturgies of the Church, from those in the Church who are following their vocation as they have been called to it, to minister to God's people in love and in sacrifice, the blessings which come from those many who are not committing crimes against their fellow human beings.
I see some people say, 'stop giving money to the diocese' – and while I understand where they might be coming from and I judge no one for that sentiment – for me personally, that would mean two things, to give less to programs which help the needy (although one can do that elsewhere, if they actually will or do, and I'm sure many do). And I see it as giving less to the support of seminaries and other avenues of continuing the Mass and Sacraments. For those who have given up on the Church, obviously they probably won't give money; but if I want to continue to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments (and I do), then it seems to me that I will also want to continue to contribute to making that possible.
I also believe that the number of priests who abuse their position is relatively few…relative to the total number of priests who serve; although I fully acknowledge that even one would be too many. The numbers we have been hearing about in our recent past are way too many. I have seen the Church take steps in more recent years to change this, and I hope it will continue this progress and - not slowly but - quickly and completely. I hope - and of course pray - it will move "full forward" on vetting and accountability, and "full stop" on tolerating abuse, crimes, and cover-ups.
As always, what I have written is my opinion and my viewpoint, and does not necessarily represent anyone else. What I have written is also subject to my own humanity, and I may be saying too much for some and too little for others.
With a heavy heart, but trusting in God's love, and in his healing for all those affected,
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
This morning I was thinking of a line from a song from my youth. The line goes, "Everything is beautiful, in its own way." I loved that song. But this morning - I don't even know why the song even popped into my head - and this morning I was thinking, everything is not beautiful. Many things are beautiful! But not everything is.
That's not just me, being negative or pessimistic. It's just a fact of life. Sex trafficking is not beautiful. Greed which over-develops properties, or develops them wrongly, and causes septic flooding into homes following heavy rains is not beautiful. Anger and pride and jealousy and all the things which cause violence, wars, and shootings are not beautiful.
So I looked up the song lyrics...and it sounds like it's actually more about looking for the good, mostly looking for the good in people. And perhaps the more we can acknowledge the good in people, perhaps, the more things really can be beautiful.
But I think we have to acknowledge the sufferings of others too, and especially not blame them for their sufferings...so they will go away and leave us to see only "beauty" (or convenience or comfort; isn't that why we do it? If we blame someone for their sufferings, then we can sit back and enjoy our own "beauty", right?).
I think we need to acknowledge the ugliness in the world in order to have compassionate hearts. I'm not talking about harping on the problems in the world. I'm not talking about dwelling on the ugliness. That can be just as dangerous as pretending it doesn't exist. But I think when we acknowledge that people have cause to suffer, cause to complain of suffering, we can better show mercy, whether it's a world-wide event or something right in front of us.
I think we can, then, better show mercy, whether it's acknowledging that God made people of all races and abilities, and that he sends young souls to peoples of all religions and cultures...or whether it's helping a tired, elderly person who is struggling to buy a drink at the vending machine at the airport...or stopping to listen to a homeless person who just wants someone to talk to...or slowing down and remembering to breathe before answering that family member who we think is being annoying.
It is said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I think maybe it's also in the eyes and ears, and voices and hands, of those who help to produce it.
Sunday, May 06, 2018
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Sometimes we find Him at church and sometimes in the works of His creation, sometimes both at the same time.
Be with us, Lord. Comfort us and strengthen us in the trials of this world and help us to comfort and strengthen others. Amen.