Monday, August 27, 2012

On the Brink

Once upon a time, there was this man who had a disability in his leg. He would walk for long distances to strengthen his legs. One day he was out in the countryside surrounded by rolling hills with rough, rocky, and uninhabited terrain. He was a couple miles from home and felt exhausted. He prayed that someone would come along who could offer him a ride back home.

Eventually, he saw a short distance away someone riding a donkey. As the rider drew closer, he noticed that it was the ranch owner making his daily on the property. The crippled man explained he just couldn’t get back home without some help. He asked to borrow the rancher’s donkey to carry him home.

The rancher was glad to help. “Oh, there’s no problem. I can loan you the donkey. However, before I let you go with the donkey, I have to tell you some things about him. This donkey is a bit unusual. He’s been trained to follow different cues than most donkeys. When you want him to go, you don’t say, 'Gitty up!' You say, 'Praise the Lord!’ He won’t move if you say, 'Gitty up!' And once you get him going, if you want to speed up, just repeat, 'Praise the Lord!' And then, when you want to stop, you don’t say, 'Whoa!’ You say, 'Amen!' “Now it’s real important that you use the words this donkey understands, 'Amen!’ to stop, and 'Praise the Lord!’ to go. If you’ll remember that, you won’t have any problem at all.”

Grateful for the rancher’s generosity, the crippled man mounted the donkey. Comfortable in the saddle, he said, “Praise the Lord,” and the donkey moved right out. Now that he was riding, he decided to go the longer route. So he said to the donkey, “Praise the Lord!” He moved faster and faster.

As he came around a curve, immediately he saw what looked like a river bank, but no bridge. It looked dangerous. He began to say, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” but the donkey didn’t stop. He was getting closer and closer to the dangerous edge. He couldn’t think of the right word. Somehow just before going over the dangerous edge, he remembered the right command, “Amen!” and the donkey stopped right on the brink.

Overjoyed, the man raised his hands toward the sky and shouted, "Praise the Lord!"

Whether we recognize it or not, we are always “on the brink” or at the edge of making some form of personal choices. Rarely will your brink be as dramatic as that of the man on the donkey, but every decision, every choice, every commitment you make, be it ever so small or seemingly insignificant at the time can impact and effect you on your life’s journey.

It all began with the small loaf beside the lake where thousands of people were fed. Then we learned that the “Bread of Life” is more than ordinary bread. It is: hope, belief, faith, purpose, vision, curiosity, intimacy, love, peace, forgiveness from guilt. All the ingredients that put quality into living every day while, at the same time, giving us a taste of God’s promise for eternal life. 

God is walking with us this morning when we pray: “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the works of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness.” (Deuteronomy 2:7)

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that every decision we make his day reflects your kindness and generosity to love one another as you love us with every breath we take.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Clinging to God

When you reflect on the life of Mary, she mirrors our journey of faith. When we first meet her, Mary is the object of an ugly rumor. Pregnant without a husband. That she was innocent and invaded by the Spirit was not believed. So if you have suffered false rumors, or had your reputation spoiled, or been misunderstood and maligned, an unwed mom, or divorce or Gay Catholic, you can identify with Mary.

Mary had her moments of anxiety and fears. What’s this Mother of God business? How can this be? She asked the angel incredulously. “What does God want? How can this happen? How can I do this?” Confused and scared and full of questions, Mary is us when we have cried out. How can I tackle this challenge? Like a newborn, another job, new relationships, caring for someone, even a new faith community. How do I this?

When Jesus is an adolescent, Mary loses her child, can’t find him in a crowded city. She becomes every parent, every teacher, every mentor in history who can’t communicate with a teenager, who loses them to the internet, or drugs or whose kids have runaway roaming the streets, exploited by the sex trade, abused and beaten. Many parents can identify with Mary here.

Mary buried her husband, and everyone who has lost a spouse, cried Mary’s tears, felt the gnawing void in their belly and returned to an empty bed can identify with her.

When her son was old enough he leaves home to begin his mission and he leaves a widow mother behind. She is a minority woman in an occupied country, a widow with no man around, She is subject to exploitation and discrimination. Every minority who feels the effects of prejudice and discrimination can identify with Mary.

Then her son is caught, brought to a mock trail, beaten and humiliated, and hung on a cross. She arrives in time to see him hanging there, straining to go to him, but she is forced by the soldiers to keep her distance. Every parent who has seen their child carted off to prison, addicted to alcohol, or sex, not having their grandchildren baptized, going thorough a divorce-every parent who experiences these little crucifixions but who must keep their distance, can identify with Mary and have to pray and suffer in silence.

And finally Mary cradles the broken dead body of her only son in her arms and sobs uncontrollably and there she is once more like every parent who has lost a child, any friend who has lost a friend anyone who has lost someone through overdose or suicide can identify with Mary.

Yet despite all this unfairness of life, she clung to God. In virginity, in motherhood, in widowhood, with lost child, with dead child, she clung to God. She becomes the woman for all of us who have suffered these little deaths and that is the secret of her enduring popularity. And her appeal.

The message of her Assumption, the celebration of taking her into heaven, is a sign of hope for us. It is meant to be a preview for all who cling to God despite adversity. Mary is what we shall be. So simply put, she is us at the end of our journey that we are traveling. That is why Mary is indeed  Blessed and a Woman for All times And All Seasons.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are experiencing many crucifixions at this moment. Give them the spirit of Our Blessed Mother to cling to God and persevere knowing that God will raise us up on the last day.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Too Tired To Run

Father Tim is complaining about his spiritual dryness, his feelings of being far from God while at the same time running himself ragged being about the Lord’s business.

Brother Absalom nods and smiles and says, “I know what you mean, brother, I know what you mean. You’re too tired to run and too sacred to rest.”

Elijah, the prophet, was sitting under a broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” too exhausted to think, and too disgusted with himself to want to go on living. How did Elijah get here? What brought Elijah to this moment of despair?

His words, “I am no better than my ancestors,” are a confession of sin and failure, of helplessness and despair. Elijah is running away from Jezebel who is hunting him down for putting to shame her pagan religion. He feels and sits alone exhausted, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” and much too aware of his own failures and much too unsure of God’s grace and love. And so, Elijah falls asleep. He has made his confession, he is ready to die. As far as he knows, when he falls asleep he is falling into the eternal sleep of death.

But God has a different plan, a different ending in store for Elijah. Elijah is awakened to the gift of new life. Elijah is awakened by the touch of a holy hand and the sound of a divine voice inviting him to “arise and eat.” Get up and get on with your life. Get up God is not finished with you yet. Get up and get on with it. Get up and quit taking yourself so seriously. Arise and eat God has more future in store for you.

God’s response to Elijah’s confession of helplessness and hopelessness was not judgment and death. God’s response was forgiveness and life. The message is that the past is over and forgiven and the future is alive and in God’s hands.

When we come to our moments of sitting alone under the broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” when we look back on our lives and see only our faults and failures, our disappointments and unfulfilled ambitions looming up and chasing us like Jezebel’s army, when we feel like we have done all we can and despite our best intentions, we find we are no better than our ancestors, we must remember how God responded to Elijah and how God will respond to us.

Say this “bread prayer” to give you strength when you feel you are falling apart:
Help me, O God, to live the recipe of good deeds. Give me the kneading strength of your Spirit to work your words into the doughy recesses of my life. Help me to let it rest awhile in my heart so that it can rise. Help me not to fear the oven of life, so that it can bake through and through. And grant that in the baking, the world would be able to roll down its window and savor the aroma of freshly baked bread, your bread of life.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who feel too tired to run and too scared. The next time they receive Holy Communion, help them to realize this is your kiss to get up and get on with their life for the past is forgiven and their future is in your hands.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

When the Miracles Stop

The gospel says: “A large crowd followed Jesus because they saw the miracles.”  Well, I ask, who wouldn’t follow? You’d be dense not to. My challenging question is, what happens when the miracles cease? Will I follow when my young adult child is found dead after committing suicide with drugs and all the prayers in the world aren’t pulling in the miracle that would save this child from this miserable addiction? When my spouse is killed while jogging in a freak in motorcycle accident and there is no miracle resurrection. When I am in shock from a diagnosed with a terminal illness and no miraculous cure appears? When bad things happen to good people and there are no miracles to right the equation when in a word, there are no miracles and no more God, at least none that I can detect, when faith is shaken if not evaporated altogether. Will we follow then? So my question: Will we follow Jesus when we no longer see miracles?

A woman who lost her child at birth, and almost her faith shared her fears and despair.
All her faith was stripped away as she focused on one thing: the injustice that her poor little girl didn’t have a chance to take even one breath…Even prayer seemed so futile, even unnecessary, like throwing a glass of water on a burning home. This mother had prayed during her entire pregnancy for the baby to be healthy—and she was. She was perfect but she wasn’t alive, cooing in her arms. How could this woman not feel betrayed?

In the weeks following her little girl’s death, well-meaning friends and relatives sent hundreds of cards and emails offering helpless words of condolence. Most of their words said the same thing: “We cannot understand God’s will.” Those words kept her up at night for months, she knew they were trying to help, but every time the issue of God’s will sprang up, she felt miserable. It got to the point where she couldn’t even numbly smile or nod anymore when the phase came up; she just clenched her teeth to keep from saying something she regret. She certainly was not going to tell a priest in confession that she was sorry for being angry with God. The truth was that she was furious with God.

Finally exhausted, this woman who had lost her child and almost her faith told her friends. Some may wonder why after this experience, she made the painful effort to believe, she could only respond that, despite her doubts and resentments, having seen the breathtaking perfection of her daughter’s peaceful face, it was impossible to think God was not there.” Somehow, beyond the miracle that never came, she sensed Someone.

So the miracle with baskets of leftover fish and bread poses the question: Will we follow Jesus when the miracles stop? When our daughter dies, when our son is killed?  Will we, like the woman who lost her child, see the absent miracle as an invitation to seek the miracle-worker himself? Will we consider the possibility that, when all is said and done, after the shock is over and the tears are dried, we ourselves become the miracle?

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect:” Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:6).

Lord, I pray for all my Sunshine Friends who are challenged to love you for who you are rather than for the free bread you can give us. Help us to focus on the real miracle, that we are called to be the compassion and presence of God in times of sorrow and pain.