Sunday, October 20, 2019

Foolish Mercy



Sue gets a call from our neighbor Maggie who is crying on the phone. It seems one of her cats, Surprise is dying. Sue observes that Surprise was rangy and ribbed and barely moving. Maggie says that Surprise has not eaten. The vet clinic is full and they make an appointment for the following day. Surprise is in her ninth year and she stopped maintaining her weight. Her soft coat started to thin; her bright eyes to dim. In desperation, Maggie tried to feed her, but she wanted nothing.

The following morning when Sue arrives to take Surprise and Maggie along to the vet, she learned that Surprise had died overnight. That night before she died, Maggie lay beside her on the floor, stroking her soft fur, whispering in her ear, “Do you hurt, Surprise? Are you sad? What do you need? Please tell me.” Surprise was silent. She cried.

We can be forgiven for failing to recognize the pain of another when they can neither recognize nor speak their own sadness. But there is no forgiving us when we choose not to hear, when we turn away from another’s pain.

Luke tells a story about a persistent widow who pesters a judge day and night, but the judge refuses to hear her pain, refuses to acknowledge her request, pretends she doesn’t exist.

Luke doesn’t reveal the specifics of her complaint, only that she has been treated unjustly. Kudos to the widow for her persistence, but what, exactly, was the injustice?

Perhaps her son has been wrongly imprisoned or maybe she herself has suffered age discrimination. It might be that her brother is being detained at the border or her deceased husband’s lawyer is dragging his heels in settling the estate. Perhaps she has been driven into bankruptcy by exorbitant medical bills.

Injustice comes with so many alibis and aliases. We want to look in her eyes and ask, “Do you hurt? What do you need?” But both she and Luke remain silent. Why does Jesus teach this lesson? Are we to pester God with our needs, as the widow pesters the justice? Is the goal of our prayers to receive compensation for injustice, or simply to wear out an exasperated God? I’m not comfortable with any of those interpretations.

So what is the greatest injustice? That the woman was mistreated? That the justice is slow to respond to her claims? Or that, ultimately, he acts with mercy, regardless of the merits of her case? Without reviewing her claims, the justice grants her request. Is it merely justice that she receives, or an even greater gift?

Perhaps Luke is hinting that Jesus is also unjust, because Jesus hears the prayers of righteous and unrighteous alike. Perhaps Luke is implying that Jesus’ justice is based not on the merits of the case but on his inexplicable love and mercy for sinners. Is it just to forgive sinners who will sin again, to feed those who will hunger again, to heal those who will be sick again, to bring back to life those who will overdose again, to raise those who will die again? In some quarters, Jesus’ kindnesses would be deemed not only unjust, but foolish.

At the end of the parable, Jesus promises that all who cry will be heard, all in need will be helped. Jesus promises that justice—Jesus’ justice—will be served without delay.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are hurting and no one hears their cry. Finally, like the persistent widow, Surprise was held in loving arms before she died. She received the justice of a gentle, peaceful death. Finally, Jesus is that unjust justice—delivering kindness and mercy to all who cry out, regardless of the merits of our case.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Pray When You Are Feeling Snotty



“I’m having a snotty day” was the comment of the teacher to her classroom aides. She was heartbroken when she learned that one of her students had died in the hospital. The response of her teammates was “we better watch out.” 

However, I think her honesty has a profound insight on why most of us find it difficult to pray. We want to pray, make resolutions to pray, but never quite get around to actually praying. Why?

It’s not so much that we are insincere, ill-motivated, or lazy, it’s just that invariably we are too tired, too distracted, too restless, too emotionally preoccupied, too angry, too busy, or feel ourselves too distant from God to feel that we can actually pray. We have too many headaches and too many heartaches. And so we come home after a long day and simply can’t work up the energy to pray and instead call a friend, watch television, rest, putter round the house, or do anything to soothe our tiredness and wind down from the pressures of life, except pray.

How can we pray when both our bodies and our hearts are chronically stressed and on over-load?

By understanding what prayer really is. Prayer, as one of its oldest definitions puts it, is “lifting mind and heart to God.” 

That sounds simple but it is hard to do. Why?

Because we have the wrong notion of what it means to pray. We unconsciously nurse the idea that we can only pray when we are not distracted, not bored, not angry, and not caught up in our many heartaches and headaches so that we can give proper attention to God in a reverent and loving way. God then is like a parent who only wants to see us on our best behavior and we only go into his presence when we have nothing to hide, are joy-filled, and can give God praise and honor. Because we don’t understand what prayer is, we treat God as an authority figure or a visiting dignitary, namely, as someone to whom we don’t tell the real truth. We don’t tell the “our boss” what is really going on in our lives but what should, ideally, be going on in them. We tell God what we think he wants to hear.

Because of this we find it difficult to pray with any regularity. What happens is: we go to pray, privately or in church, and we enter into that feeling tired, bored, preoccupied, perhaps even angry at someone. We come to prayer carrying heartaches and headaches of all kinds and we try to bracket what we are actually feeling and instead crank up praise, reverence, and gratitude to God. Of course it doesn’t work! Our hearts and heads grow distracted because they are preoccupied with something else, our real issues, and we get the sense that what we are doing—trying to pray—is not something we can do right now and we leave it for some other time.

If we take seriously that prayer is “lifting mind and heart to God” then every feeling and every thought we have is a valid invitation into prayer, no matter how irreverent, unholy, selfish, snotty or angry that thought or feeling might seem. Simply put, if you go to pray and you are feeling snotty, pray snotty, bored, pray boredom; if you are feeling angry, pray anger; and if you want to praise and thank God, pray gratitude. What’s important is that we pray what’s inside of us and not what we think God would like to find inside of us.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are feeling “snotty” about some headaches or heartache and we really need your comfort and healing. Help us to be more honest like that teacher and come to you in prayer when we are feeling bad, irreverent, sinful, emotionally, and unworthy of praying. All of these feelings can be our entry into prayer. No matter the headache or the heartache, we only need to lift it up to God.



Sunday, October 06, 2019

What Makes You Mad?



What makes you mad? For some its politics, or your favorite team losing, maybe it’s your relatives, but I suffer from the demons of machines that make me crazy.

Let’s start with my weed eater. When the thread runs out and I have to replace it with more string and remember to turn the knob “clockwise.” Worse, when I pull five times, then another five and the engine won’t start. Check the gas, pull again and no start. I proceed to take a time out and work on another chore. This time grab the chainsaw to cut up a fallen tree limb. Pull once, then twice and a miracle on the fifth pull, it starts. Praise Jesus!

Now back to the weed eater. Thank God I filed the instruction manual that you only read in a crisis. It says high octane and mix with oil. Sure enough, used the wrong fuel for this machine. Found the gas can in the garage that’s labelled, “mixture for weed eater” and praise Jesus, this machine started.

But there’s the plastic container for the water conditioner that’s leaking, the CD player stops in the middle of a movie, the TV remote doesn’t always turn the channels, the tire on the mower goes flat after every cut, the gator gear box is rough and the tractor speedometer is malfunctioning. For that matter my brain is malfunctioning with all these machine breakdowns.

Of course, while I whine about my machines that are breaking down, I get a request to see a young man who attempted his “fifth” suicide. Then, there are the broken relationships, the addictions and cancers that people request my prayers. Life is very fragile. So, what does Jesus have to offer when we are going crazy inside?

At the last supper, and as he was dying, Jesus offered his gift of peace. And what is this? It is the absolute assurance the we are connected to the source of life in such a way that nothing, absolutely nothing, can ever sever—not bad health, not betrayal by someone, indeed, not even our broken machines. We are unconditionally loved and nothing can change that. Nothing can change God’s unconditional love for us.

If that is true, then we have an assurance of life and happiness beyond the breakdowns of our machines, the loss of health, the betrayal of friends, the suicide of a loved one, and even beyond our own sin and betrayals. In the end, as Julian of Norwich says, all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of being will be well.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who like me get easily frustrated with life in which everything seems to be breaking down. We need your assurance. We live with constant anxiety because we sense that our health, security, and relationships are fragile, that our peace can easily disappear. We live with regrets about our own sins and betrayals. Our peace is fragile and anxious. We need to remember Jesus’ farewell gift to us: “I leave you a peace that no one can take from you: Know that you are loved and held unconditionally.”

Friday, September 27, 2019

Feedback from a Stranger

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The following is a true story that took place at Holy Family in North Java.

A person from out of town wrote in his journal that he wanted to start taking chances with strangers. Jerry wrote that he came to attend the 10am Sunday Mass and felt the call to sing in the choir. He got off the kneeler in his pew and walked to the front of the church and said, “Do you need another person to sing?” He remembered that there was a ten second pause. Then someone in the choir said, “Yes.”

Jerry thought to himself what did he have to lose. Nothing. The choir could have said come next week and audition, or there is not much room up here and we are pretty crammed in on this side of the sanctuary. But “no” he honestly opened himself up to the group and they welcomed him like he had been a family member all his life. Jerry wrote: “What a great community!”

Then someone asked him: “Are you any good at singing?” He said, “I’m OK.” The choir member responded: “We are all OK too! Here stand in the back, it is better if you are not up front.”

Jerry recalled that the members of the choir helped him with the music, which books to use and the page location of the hymns. They even had “kleenex” and he admitted that he cried after the “Penance Service.” Someone gave him the prayers for the penance service. The blessing that took place for each person in the church was most healing for hm. No one missed a beat, he wrote. They (choir) were awesome! Signed Jerry Rzatkiewicz

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are searching for a faith community where they feel the warmth and love of Jesus. The secret to our growing parish is “warmth.” Our choir said “yes” to Jerry and let him know that he was welcomed and appreciated for his willingness to share his voice and sing the praises of the Lord.
          

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Letter of Reference from the Poor

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In my town, the local board had filed complaints against 50 properties that were in violation of some property codes. It could a barn that’s falling apart, or rusted trucks or cars on the property, or God forbid, the neighbor’s grass is 10 inches high and that’s a violation of the town code. I suggested to a member of the town board that a better solution would be to help these property owners find a grant to clean up these properties like I helped my neighbor get rid of her trash and broken-down garage. In reality, I was grateful to Dan who came with his backhoe and helped me load two 30-yard dumpsters to get rid of all her trash.

Have you ever done something simply on principle, because it was the right thing to do, knowing that you couldn’t explain it to anyone, without there even being a good feeling attached to your act?

Jesus would agree that he makes this both the central tenet of religion and the overriding criterion for salvation. We see this in the famous text in the gospels where Jesus tells us that whatsoever you do to the poor here on earth you do to him. For Jesus, to give something to a poor person is to give something to God, and to neglect a poor person is to neglect God.

They had been asking Jesus: What will be the test? What will be the ultimate criterion for judgment as to whether or not someone enters into the kingdom of heaven or not? His answer surprised them. The religious of his day expected that judgment would revolve around issues religious practice, correct observance, and moral codes. Instead they got this answer:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matt 25:31)

And what, according to Jesus, will be the basis for the separation? Only this: did you feed the hungry? Give drink to the thirsty? Invite in the stranger? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick and imprisoned? Because when you do these things to the hungry, to the thirsty, to strangers, to the sick, and to the imprisoned, you do them to God, and vice versa.

 The Jewish prophets had taught us that serving the poor is a non-negotiable, integral part of religion, that nobody gets to heaven without a “letter of reference from the poor.” But Jesus adds:  God doesn’t just have a preferential option for the poor, God is within the poor.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who help their elderly neighbors  shopping, taking them for groceries or giving them a lift for a doctor appointment. Or, maybe the next time we are walking down the street and someone asks us for a handout, we simply buy them lunch. God is within the poor.

One more idea to practice this message. Our former rectory now houses a hospice for dying residents. It needs donations to continue to provide the best care to the dying and their families. Now would be a good time to secure your place in the kingdom and make a donation, or better yet, sponsor a fund-raiser in your community to support this hospice ministry.

To donate or volunteer contact: Tim Kibler, Director Charlotte House at
585-727-0942 or email timothy.kibler@charlottehouse.org
Make checks payable to: Charlotte House, PO Box 123, North Java, NY 14113.







Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Miracle in North Java



Let me share a little miracle I witnessed today. No, it’s not the Buffalo Bills going 2 and 0 this week. Rather, a Catholic parish gathered for their annual outdoor picnic. I brought my collection of stuffed animals and discovered that one was missing.

I asked the kids to help me find “Spinach.” This hand puppet has been teaching about Jesus for over 40 years and sure enough a grownup finds him hiding in the pavilion rafters. Even though I have a very large collection, every one of them is very important to me and I would be very upset if one of them was lost.

That reminded me of a lesson that Jesus taught to a group of religious leaders one day. The religious leaders were very upset that Jesus was often seen associating with sinners. He was even sometimes seen eating with them. The religious leaders didn't like that at all and were very critical of Jesus. Jesus told them a story to help them to understand.

"Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and you lost one of them," Jesus said. "Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine who were safe, and go and search for the lost sheep? And when you found the lost sheep, wouldn't you joyfully put it on your shoulders and carry it back home? Wouldn't you be so happy that you would tell all of your friends about finding the lost sheep?" I imagine that all of the religious leaders had to agree that they would do just as Jesus had suggested. Then Jesus said to them in the same way, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."

The Bible teaches us that we are like sheep and sometimes stray away from God. I told the kids that “Arthur’ my pet kitty was hitting “Daisy” on the head with his paws. That’s like being a bully to your brothers and sisters and that makes God very sad, but he never gives up on us. Now here’s where I get to “hook” mom and dad and their neighbors into this wonderful story.

Jesus wanted us to know that God cares for us as people, and He will not let us wander and stray away. Sometimes we might do things that simply are not our best, like gossip or criticize our neighbor. Sometimes we make mistakes, or even turn our backs on God and His love. But He will “never leave us.” Nothing we can do will ever separate us from God’s love, and He’s always waiting with open arms to welcome us back into His family, if we should walk away. In fact, God loves us so much that, even though we do selfish things, He sent Jesus who gave His life for us! He didn’t just come for good people, but for all people. That is something to be thankful for.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who might think that God doesn’t listen to their prayers or gave up on them a long time ago. Like a Good Shepherd, Jesus is searching for you because he made you very special and He will help you if you ask.

By the way, the miracle I witnessed was the photo you are looking at top of this reflection. It shows all the young couples and their children of Holy Family. God’s love is contagious and these parents like to invite you to join our youthful and growing church family. Bring the kids!



Sunday, September 08, 2019

Can I Count on You?



Many employees these days, work from home. One of the tricks to working at home is to make sure people know that you actually are working, so one man decided that he needed a professional-sounding voice-mail greeting so everyone would know he was hard at work.
As luck would have it, the moment he decided to record his message, his wife was across the hall from his office, folding clothes, while their six-year-old daughter was just getting out of the shower. Given that set of circumstances, you can understand why his so-called professional message ended up sounding like this:
Male voice: “Hi, this is Jeff with IBM.”
Female voice: “Look at you! You have no clothes on!”
Male voice: “I’m not available right now...”

Think of how many communications devices we have today: Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, texts and e-mail. And every one of them allows us to present the image of a constant presence — a constant availability to the world, but that presence is always on our own terms. Every one of them allows us to some degree to screen out those communications we don’t want to respond to. We can seem to be available when we really aren’t.

And that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about with the crowd when he says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The word for hate is a Semitic expression meaning ‘to turn away from, to detach oneself from,’ rather than our animosity-laden understanding. In other words, Jesus is asking, “Will you set aside every other loyalty — as important as they are — and really be available to me? Can I really count on you?”

Sadly, we fail to make ourselves available with all kinds of excuses and put ourselves on “voice mail.” We get the call, know the caller, but refuse to answer because we don’t want to be available.

Christ was available for you and me. And he asks us to be available to walk in his footsteps. Are we willing to do that or are we too attached to our own plans, our easy lives and our usual way of doing things?

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who find the humility to be available to a neighbor, veteran, coworker, abandoned kitty and family. Give us the compassion and commitment to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position, Help us to walk in your footsteps.