Wow! On every channel, Facebook, Twitter, conversation and now this parish blog…all everybody is talking about is Pope Francis. He is making his way through all of these audiences with the same message: let’s be open, have dialogue, be kind, love one another. What seems to strike people the most is HOW he is saying it. He means it. He talks to Congress about helping the poor, and then he goes and eats with them. He praises women religious, and he makes an impromptu stop to visit them. He says to put the marginalized first, and then he prays for them. It is simple and clear that love is his mission, and ours.
What moments have stood out the most for you? For me, I got choked up when he went out on the speaker’s balcony after speaking to Congress and addressed the crowd. He looked at the children and families and called them the most important ones. He blessed them, and then asked for prayers for himself. Even if you’re not the praying kind, he said to send good wishes his way. He was speaking as an equal. There was no judging in his voice. He only felt a love for those in front of him. And today, I teared up again listening to him at Ground Zero. His heart was breaking with everyone’s in the room. He asked to pray in silence among a people where multiple religions and ethnicities were represented. You could hear a pin drop. Then children came out to sing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth”. It made me really want to be that peace somehow in my life. This pope listens and feels what we feel. He inspires this empathy in those around him. He inspires me to be a better listener too, and to always be present and affirming to those I encounter.
If you get a chance, try to take a few minutes to think about the coverage you have seen and what it means to YOU and your life. How is love your mission? Is there something the pope has said that hits a cord in you? Is there a subtle way that he approaches life that you would like to emulate? With all the Pope-apalooza, a moment of reflection could bring a lot of meaning into your own world, and with it, peace.
And by the way, on October 8th 6:30pm, we will meet at St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Parish Center on Rosa Road to discuss “Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home”, the pope’s Encyclical. This will be a wonderful opportunity to dig deeper into his philosophy on caring for each other and our earth. It may help you in your own reflection too. It can be found here : Laudato Si or call the parish office for a printed copy ($1.50).
Feel free to share your own ruminations here or with me…I’d love to hear them.
1st Reading: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
The Book of Wisdom is known only in Greek and may be the last book of the Old Testament to be written. The main interest of the author is to reassure the Jewish community living in Egypt that keeping their faith is worthwhile despite the hardships in a pagan land (Aren’t we still?). Prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah draw from the insights in this book, so it deserves healthy attention (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 488-489).
Gandhi was inspired by the teachings of Jesus, in particular the emphasis on love for everyone, even one’s enemies, and the need to strive for justice. He also took from Hinduism the importance of action in one’s life, without concern for success; the Hindu text Bhagavad-Gita says, “On action alone be thy interest, / Never on its fruits / Abiding in discipline perform actions, / Abandoning attachment / Being indifferent to success or failure” (Wolpert, India 71).
For Gandhi, ahimsa was the expression of the deepest love for all humans, including one’s opponents; this non-violence therefore included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill-will towards them. Gandhi rejected the traditional dichotomy between one’s own side and the “enemy;” he believed in the need to convince opponents of their injustice, not to punish them, and in this way one could win their friendship and one’s own freedom. If need be, one might need to suffer or die in order that they may be converted to love (http://www.socialchangenow.ca/mypages/gandhi.htm).
In South Africa, the words “I am” also mean “you are.” I am because you are! This concept, known as ubuntu, emerged in the 19th century and developed as a world view for South Africans when apartheid was legislated in the early 1950s. It literally stands for human-ness or humanity toward others. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said ubuntu means “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.” Nelson Mandela wrote “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” Ubuntu then is a philosophy of interdependence (from recent blog of https://richardsvosko.wordpress.com/). How does this fit in setting the “wicked” as being someone else? Are we all to learn and be blessed by one another?
2nd reading: James 3:16-4:3
James questions what we still question today…why is there war? Why can we hold on to our own self interests? He begs his listeners to be seekers of peace…to be pure, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. Where do you find peace in your life? How does this help you in times of conflict?
From Seeking Peace, Johann Christoph Arnold:
“You will always find reasons to grumble. If you want to find peace, you must be willing to give them up. I beg you: stop concentrating on your desire to be loved. It is the opposite of Christianity.”
“…the inside must become like the outside (and the other way around)…a consistent battle in favor of all that is life-bringing and good…”
“Joy and peace are found in loving and nowhere else.” – John Stott
Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
Not only is Jesus predicting his Passion and death a second time (remember last week’s Gospel?), but he is teaching his disciples the meaning of servant. We are all servants of Christ and servants in his household. (Birmingham, W&W, 653) How do we become servants of Christ? It’s all about the love! J We will be unable to endure the cross Christ asks of us if we do not grow in the love he gives us. When we follow the way of the Lord and the will of God in love, we live in the perfection of justice we seek in our prayer. Only then will we understand and live the life of a true servant of Christ (654).
Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges developed the Lead Like Jesus movement. Like Sigmund Freud, ego has a lot to do with it. We have a tendency to Edge God Out by putting ourselves in the center (like the disciples in this Gospel story). We let pride and fear get in the way. We need to have a tendency for Exalting God Only, where we have a spirit of humility and confidence in God’s purpose. It is a lifelong struggle (Phelps, The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, 58-63).
Did you notice that Jesus and the disciples are in constant motion? They are constantly on the way to somewhere, on a journey. This is like our lives now! We are challenged to be present with Jesus in our constant motion too.
The word for servant (talya) is interchangeable with child. The word receives is the same word for welcomes in 6:11. It means taking care of the weaker members of the community – those who are in most need of being served. Children were at the bottom of society’s social ladder. Childhood was a time of great danger. 30% of live births ended in death. Disease and lack of hygiene caused 60% of children to die by the age of 16 (Birmingham, W&W, 656). Jesus turns everything upside down for us. We are supposed to be more like children (or servants) to receive Him. How do we do this? Again, it is all about the love…
I saw a bumper sticker today that said “Grace happens”. It touched my heart and made me smile. It is so good to stay with those little moments. They are what make or break a day. Because even on the worst days, graced moments happen. A friend of mine, Joyce, calls them ‘God winks’. They are simple, little encounters that move us, make us sigh, speak yes to us, bring inner goodness out.
The bumper sticker was unexpected. That particular car happened to be in front of me, and I happened to see it. I told my son Thomas to look at it too. We were on our way to a piano lesson. He was talking about his classes at school and how a boy was teasing him about a girl. I was turning off the radio so I could hear him better. Everyday stuff. Then this bumper sticker pops up. Grace happens. It was like God popping into our conversation to say hi. What a wonderful surprise. Thomas and I began to talk about the bumper sticker and what it meant to us. It morphed into a conversation about the death penalty somehow, but that is a blog for another day. My point is God surprised us, and we happily noticed.
Pope Francis says we have a God of surprises. He says, “…God is the God of surprises, that God is always new; He never denies himself, never says that what He said was wrong, never, but He always surprises us.” Do we open our hearts to them?
I think when we do, we start to see them all the time. We look for them. We hope for them. We want to make them for others. I bet that’s what the driver of that bumper sticker-ed car thought. I bet she (I say she because the words “Grace happens” were surrounded by pink flowers, but I don’t want to be accused of sexism…she could be a he.) saw God surprises in her life and wanted to join in the fun.
It’s contagious once your heart can feel the joy in God’s surprises. Maybe it’s an unsolicited hug, a pleasant comment on Facebook or a smile between strangers. They can be in nature, like geese flying under pink-tinged clouds or a single rose blooming despite the chill in the air. Sometimes they are big surprises. Sometimes they are little. Like the other day, my older son Nolan said he enjoyed the banter going on between his dad and I in the car more than anything else about that outing (God must hang out in cars a lot.). I was pleasantly surprised how much he enjoyed our company. It made all of us feel good, and it carried us through the day.
I’m sure I miss a lot of surprises. I let my mind get full of what I need to do, what isn’t getting done. I let myself get distracted. Instead, I need to be present to the possibility of God’s surprises. Notice them. It’s the good stuff of life that brings joy and peace.
The snow hit last night, so 8:30 AM Mass was a difficult service to make. I’m glad I did wake one hour after Adam had cleared the driveway and walkways of snow. We just made it to Mass to join about 20 other brave drivers… and Al was the sole altar server for Mass. It was the only period of time today where I felt successful as a parent and relaxed enough to enjoy some time for reflection… until now?
Before the snow hit hard, we all enjoyed Jade’s school production of Willy Wonka. The kids went to bed late; yet still, perhaps, “all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.” After church, I ran late running Jade to her matinee performance in the school musical. I lost my patience with attempting to write my annual Christmas letter (due to Alejandro’s constant demands to download more Apps and videos). He got shipped to work with Dad at the rink, and I could escape my guilt of using “screens” as a babysitter again. My nightly visions “dancing in my head” are predominantly only of “what I needed to do!” and “ways I was falling short!” Every year it seems those lists grow exponentially. I hope it is just nostalgia that makes me think it was so much easier to put on Christmas when the kids were tots.
Like many others, financial stresses seem to grow these days rather than subside despite the fact that I went back to work once the kids started school. Will I stop questioning my decision to NOT teach but work as an hourly-paid aide so I can be present for my kids after school rather than grading English class compositions? (I’ve always justified this decision as a balance between still wanting to work with kids and Adam’s around-the-clock demands of managing the athletic facilities at Union College, sitting on the Youth Hockey Board, coaching youth and women’s club hockey, working as a referee, staying tuned to ESPN updates, and all the phone calls, texts, emails… With the stress of budgeting bills instead of just paying them off each month, nostalgia for the heedless bliss of two incomes and no kids has regretfully also come into existence.
Then there’s that nagging trait of thinking it’s not good enough, so I just have to strive harder toward perfection. I get home–sometimes bruised or bitten–from working with kindergarteners with social/emotional needs, nearly always emotionally drained. I pride myself in gaining more empathy (rather than disdain or blaming them) for their life situations and reactions to them. Yet, when I arrive home, I’m physically exhausted. Why can’t I find it thrilling to attempt explaining multiplying and dividing mixed numbers with my son? Why is driving across town to take Jade to hockey and walking the dog outside the rink during her practice not filling me with serenity? Why can’t I take pride in buying the precooked meal deal and timing my arrival home with a rare break in Adam’s work schedule so we can all sit together? Since returning to work, I find myself having to predominantly act reactively to what is thrown at me rather than having the time to be proactive. (I took pride in being proactive when I was teaching). I wasn’t the hockey goalie growing up—reactive is not my forté! I was going to live like Thoreau; write a Great American novel or one good poem.
I understand that even in the days of Leave it to Beaver or even The Brady Bunch, working class people couldn’t relate to how rewarding domestic life was supposed to be. Still, there’s this side of me that wants desperately to live like June Cleaver. I know life back then wasn’t so rosy for even the upwardly mobile middle-class; that is, it was closer to Betty Draper from Mad Men… and I am certainly glad to live without all the sexism, infidelity, and alcohol abuse portrayed in that setting. (I think I’d like the clothes though!). But I guess being upset that life isn’t what it’s supposed to be is the whole problem.
Hence, why I wish it was more Advent than Christmas time. Advent is a more reflective time. It’s not getting caught up in “Christmas”, but taking time to reflect on what Christmas should mean… in the abstract not material sense. So the kids are going to be disappointed that they don’t get all the THINGS they want. I’m upset that my house isn’t sparkling clean and orderly as well as decorated to the nines… looking like a gingerbread creation. We can’t get a new car—yet—and we won’t pay the bills off until the tax refund. (Yeah, that instead of the Disney vacation or new furniture.) Adam being upset that the Cardinals didn’t win the World Series is just as trivial as the rest of my supposedly grave concerns.
This is as good as it gets, and maybe that’s pretty good! Being a perfect parent isn’t being perfect. I can’t explain fractions no matter how I try. I couldn’t make better lasagna than Stouffers anyway. We still have a home. I got to see most of my family this year, and we all will see Adam’s side over Christmas. What more could one want for Christmas? Even if my kids don’t get many new clothes or electronics, they are healthy and growing into better people every day. I make a difference in my job… even if it’s not getting kindergarteners to pass a common core test; but rather, they feel better about themselves by learning to deal with disappointment, self-regulate their behavior issues, and become more disciplined students. Adam’s hard work heats the house and puts food on the table. Really, isn’t life about wanting what you have instead of getting what you want? I think if we all just take time to reflect on what makes us truly happy, we won’t get caught up in achieving Christmas before we’ve honestly taken time for Advent.
The meaning of Advent comes from the Latin words, advenire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. My prayer is for all of us to come to an understanding of what “Christ in the world” means. It means allowing Christ to arrive into our hearts and find the gratitude in what we have. For me, I think making it to Mass this morning helped me reconnect with that concept, especially in seeing the Advent wreath. The first purple candle means: hope. The second purple candle means: faith. The third pink candle means: joy. The fourth and final purple candle means: peace. I hope 2014 finds us striving for hope, faith, joy and peace, no matter what our circumstances or expectations. A Blessed Advent to all!
Advent = 3 comings! From St. Bernard (1090-1153):
We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men [and women]; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming “all flesh will see the salvation of our God,” and “they will look on him whom they pierced.” The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in the flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5
This section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel (chapters 1-39). This was a world in crisis. 1st Isaiah uses this powerful poetry to give the people of his time a vision of God’s plan that goes beyond the immediate disasters. (Celebration, Dec. 2001)
Isaiah has an agenda against injustice, oppression and idolatry. He implored the people to turn from their wicked ways and return to Yahweh. Isaiah proclaimed a God who was in control of the whole world, a God who blessed and disciplined those who were in covenant with God. In spite of Isaiah’s warnings, Israel’s kings did not heed his advice. They refused to believe the promise that Yahweh would protect and defend their nation. As a result, Isaiah turned his hopes to a future king who would obey Yahweh. From this moment, the words of Isaiah inspired hopes of a messiah, a new king in Israel’s future who would better serve God and bring about a full measure of the divine blessing on the land. The bottom line: peace is possible only in God (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 49-50).
2nd Reading – Romans 13: 11-14
From Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
A Christian life is a life of tension, yet a tension that is filled with peace – a darkness that is filled with Christ’s light. Christians stand in the dark with our faces lit by the coming dawn. The early Christians actually lived thinking that Jesus was coming at any minute; we have a longer view of this coming. Yet, we, too, must live with a certainty of his coming that is so strong that his light casts his goodness on all we do.
From Share the Word, Dec. 2001 p. 16:
This passage changed St. Augustine’s life from waste to knowing the wonder of God’s power and love. Augustine as a young man knew orgies and drunkenness and promiscuity quite well. One day he heard a sing-song voice say to him: “Take, read.” His eyes fell upon this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Augustine let these words touch his heart and mind. These words helped to cut the cords of sin beginning a transformation that would eventually help him to become St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church’s greatest pastors and theologians. He was able to cast off the ‘false self’ (flesh) that had led him to the ways of darkness and death, and “to put on the Lord Jesus” being enlightened by this “armor of light.”
From Richard Rohr, CD’s: Great Themes of Paul:
When Paul talks of ‘the flesh’ he means all that leads to death; he does not mean sexual activities so much as activities that are destructive of human life and relationships. Paul sets before us the essential conflict. In this essential conflict, something does have to die – something has to live. Flesh (translated from sarx, not soma) does not just mean body or sex. It is not the body that has to die. It is falsehood – sinful self-interest – the little self – the trapped self: insecure, attention-seeking, needy, fragile, wounded, broken, always looking outside of one’s self. It often ‘causes’ us to do things that are not in our own best interest. We end up treating ourselves and others as objects instead of persons valued and loved by God. The false self – the flesh – which is ruled by sin, has an overwhelming desire to make itself special. Paul would want us to believe (this is the faith that saves us) that in Christ, as a fully alive human being, we are already special and loved by God – so then we can get ‘off the stage’ and live the reality that is God’s love!
The Gospel – Matthew 24: 37-44
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship, Year A p.53-54:
Today’s gospel reminds us that Advent calls for a response of faith. Whoever can wake up and be truly present to one’s life, sensing right now how Advent mysteriously lets the inexperience-able God be experienced. So we do not know the hour or day. So what? What difference does it make? What does make a difference is the way we live our lives in hopeful anticipation and quiet presence now. How are we nurturing our relationship with the living God in our midst? Prayer can be our help. This watchfulness and prayer will also help us pay more attention to the needs of others who are suffering or despairing. For we are people of hope and good news – let us reflect the Light bringing the love of God to those around us.