Sunday, September 30, 2012

Celebrate Change?


I have a precious eighty-something senior asked me some very good questions about her “new” Catholic Church she was attending. She wanted to know the difference between being Catholic in this “refreshed” version of being Catholic. She realized very quickly that the difference was the “organization” and not the faith. She admitted that she loved the warm feeling in her new church. People smiled and asked her how her week went. She liked the fact that the prayers in the Mass were very similar in both traditions. However, she admitted that she still was uncomfortable embracing a stranger at the “kiss of peace.” Or even more frightening, whenever I invited people to join me around the altar to pray for family and friends she felt very awkward. This invitation to come up to the altar has actually driven people away from this church. After all, we were not taught to respect the clergy and the sanctuary was their turf “out of bounds” for the rest of us common folk.

She listens to the same the Gospel stories that are read at both churches every Sunday. What she sadly shared was that her friends in the “old” church had some unkind remarks on her moving away to this “refreshed” tradition. Their criticism hurt her very much. Worse, bulletin warnings in her old church implied she would no longer be welcomed back to pray with her neighbors. She celebrated the sacraments for over eighty years in that church and this news was shocking and sadly very disheartening.

She wanted to feel comfortable in this “refreshed” tradition. The faces on the statues looked warm and friendly. She enjoyed singing the old familiar hymns. But she struggled with the “voices.” The voices of fear implanted by the organization that she was doing something terribly wrong by “crossing the line.” 

She humbly summed up her experience with this profound candid observation. I have been coming for four months to this “refreshed” church and I am happy to see my kids—(now all grown up) coming to church again and learning about God’s love. Still, “At my age, change is hard.”

I am sure that she never imagined that her faith journey for over eighty-years would lead her down this road. Change was hard for the early church where it had its share of family division over the new teachings. Jesus critics hunted him down all the way to a cross. From His cross, Jesus humbly said: “Forgive them Father.”

This woman of faith is learning that despite the changes it is God who cares for all of us no matter where we worship on Sunday. She has discovered that change means an “open mind with an open heart.” This “refreshed” Catholic community welcomes anyone to the table of the Lord who has felt the sting of rejection. Jess called many in his lifetime who you were on the fringes of society to enter his kingdom.

I am aware that many people are fearful of change and it takes courage and trust to move beyond our comfort zone. This is not a stale faith community where people out of curiosity are coming into its doors. This “refreshed” version of Catholic is very human and it has its share of imperfections. The people who worship here believe God has the power to touch the heart of every a person and break through to a child in a way that the old church, often cannot.

It is true your neighbors can refuse to listen to you, turn their backs on you, reject your values, and walk away from everything you stand for; but there is always still another teacher, God, from whom they cannot walk away. God can reach into places, including hell itself, into which we cannot reach. God is always there, with a love more patient and solicitousness more fierce than is our own. From that we can draw courage and consolation. This community believes that they are surrounded always by a love, a concern, an anxiety, and an invitation to awaken to love that far exceed anything we can offer. God is the real teacher and has powers we don't have.

God is walking with us this morning when we pray: “The Lord will rescue his servants, no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.” (Psalm 34:22).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they seek your call to be servants of one another, loving each other in the name of the one who first loved us.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tender Love

The irony is that the baby ultimately wields the greatest power. The athlete could crush it, the dictator could kill it, and the rock star could out-glow it in sheer dynamism, but the baby has a different kind of power. It can touch hearts in a way that a dictator, an athlete, or a rock star cannot. Its innocent, wordless presence, without physical strength, can transform a room and a heart in a way that guns, muscle, and charisma cannot. We watch our language and actions around a baby, less so around athletes and rock stars. The powerlessness of a baby touches us at a deeper moral place.

This is the way we find and experience God's power here on earth, sometimes to our great frustration, and this is the way that Jesus was deemed powerful during his lifetime. The Gospels make this clear, from beginning to end. Jesus was born as a baby, powerless, and he died hanging helplessly on a cross with bystanders mocking his powerlessness. Yet both his birth and his death reveal the kind of power upon which we can ultimately build our lives.

This is not an easy concept to grasp since our idea of power is normally rooted in the notion that power lies in the ability to overwhelm, not underwhelm, others. And yet we understand this, at least somewhat, in our experience of babies, who can overpower us precisely by their powerlessness. Around a baby, every mother and father and grandparent has learned, we not only watch our language and try not to have bitter arguments; we also try to be better, more loving persons. Metaphorically, a baby has the power to do an exorcism. It can cast out the demons of self-absorption and selfishness in us. That's why Jesus could cast out certain demons that others could not.

Blessed are you who have suffered the violence of others in this world. Women who have been abused, workers robbed of their integrity in the workplace, children who have been abandoned. All who felt he power of rejection and misunderstanding to someone’s advantage. How should we respond to those moments?

That is what I am going to do, says Jesus. I am going to say “I love you,” to my Father. I will do it by undergoing insults and humiliating death because I love God above these things. And I love the world, everything that is in it. And I love you, with the fullness and warmth and generosity of God’s everlasting love.

God is walking with us this morning when we pray: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are “bowed down” feeling shame or disgrace. Let us find the grace of humility to raise us up beyond our worst fears and live in God’s everlasting love.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The First Children's Homily

I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath, sighing and with a somewhat forced smile, saying, "Come here y’all, sit down, let's talk. Let me see if I can find a better way to explain this to you."

He proceeded to talk about how whoever wants to be first must be last and a servant of everyone. Then, he invented the children's sermon, complete with an actual child as the object in the object lesson. Jesus reached into the crowd and pulled a child, probably a toddler, into the room. Then he said,  “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”

One of the joys I miss in ministry is taking “Spinach” into the classroom or church on First Friday’s and presenting a “children’s homily.” Spinach is a puppet I received from a teacher to help me share stories about God’s love for his children. A green, odd-looking creature with big loving eyes, the kids “did get it” for they would cheer whenever I brought Spinach along to teach them about Jesus. These kids have grown up with children of their own, but I am amazed when they ask: “Where’s Spinach?”

It is interesting to note that the Greek words for child and servant have the same root and that Jesus used both of these images; child and servant, as symbols of who the messiah is and who we, the followers of Jesus, are called to be in the world. Children and servants, powerless and defenseless ones, that's us.

The essence of Spinach was a humble spirit, voiceless, yet full of love for Jesus. He welcomed all the children and made every child feel great because he taught that everybody can be great because everybody can serve.

God is walking with us this morning when we pray: “The Lord will rescue his servants, no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.” (Psalm 34:22).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they seek your call to be servants of one another, loving each other in the name of the one who first loved us.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Creaks and Rattles

God why do we have to suffer pain? Why this accident? Why can’t we just walk around and do our business without fear that some toxin, some genetic disease is lurking around our DNA to slow us down?

God gave us the brains to use common sense, so quit complaining and seek some help. So I turn to a friend who recommends a chiropractor he sees once a year. Now this is not the first time that I have had this ding. Once during Holy Week, I am preparing for Holy Thursday services getting ready to lay prostate on the floor. However, before the service I was exercising on the rectory living room floor so that I could complete this service. Little did the parishioners know that father was “bent out of shape” and in alot of pain.

Now I find myself in a strange doctor office with a pain that won’t go away. I tried the novena medication prayer, but its not working. Dr. Mike greets me and invites a young doctor to observe his technique. This healer is a gem. Standing on a platform, my chin in place, the table moves face down like in the movie the “Pit and the Pendulum.” It's painful but we slowly make our way all the way down. A pinch here and a tuck their and our specialist diagnoses what the old time farmers use to call a “slip disc.”

How many times have we walked into the doctor’s office not so much worried about the procedure, but the pronouncement that some terrible disease that we can’t pronounce is lurking in our bones. How many patients do I see each week with their “creaks and rattles” that need adjustment. Which at the moment our chiropractor is performing his miracle dance. Tucking my arm in and straightening my leg in the opposaite direction, he bears down with his weight and waits for a “click.” Note, I said “click” not CRACK!

Sometimes, we need an adjustment when it comes to our attutde in life. There are many times, we are faced down on the table fearful of another medical problem. God is present in the hands of someone He has blessed to make the proper adjustments and help us get back top normal.

I like what Dr. Mike said to me after the treatment. "We will have you back to normal in a week." Better yet, when we next met for another adjustment we talked about the new doctors coming into his profession. The most important piece of advice this healer gave his student was treat your patients like family. Like they were your cousins coming in for help.

That’s how God wants us to think when we have fallen down with a ding or our lives are bent out of shape. We must never give up hope, despite the silence. God comes to us in ways we least expect and always hears our prayers for help to heal our pain. God gives us the courage to persevere when the diagnose makes our life miserable or worse never goes away.

God is walking with us this morning when we pray: “…the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” (Luke 9:9).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that despite all our "creaks and rattles" we are given the courage to persevere and grateful for the healers who adjust our health and give us hope.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Not A Good Fit

From the back room, Vince, the owner of Batavia vacuum shop for over 30 years, looks at the carpet brush and immediately noticed that it is not attached properly, There are these tiny nooks that need to be joined precisely to the attachment so that the carpet brush glides along the floor to pick up the dirt and hopefully kitty hairs. I had cleaned out the attachment to remove some string and hairs but failed to put this attachment back together properly. Vince said the brushes never need replacing but they got to touch the floor to do their job. I felt like a darn fool, for I never suspected that the brushes were not working because it was not a good fit.

Some of the parishioners are wondering if their new faith tradition is a good fit. The prayers and sacraments are similar to their past worship, the Jesus preached from the pulpit is the same Lord who invites all to the table and the message about being the Bread of Life encourages all of us to use our gifts to bring kindness and a little bit of heaven into our homes, farms and community. But is it a good fit?

Was Jesus a good fit for the people of his time? He was born a Jew, brought up as a Jew, lived his whole life as Jew, and died a Jew. To try to separate Jesus from his Jewishness is as nonsensical as separating a leopard from its spots. Jesus was no Christian. All of his followers and all who followed them were Jews as well; within a generation or two that changed. 

With much squabbling and hostility the Christian movement realized that to be a “good fit” people who weren’t Jews could become Christians. Imagine the furor this caused – churches split; sadly families were divided.  There are no reasons to think that the acrimony, bitterness, and sordid confrontations we know in current disputes, were any less disturbing for those involved then. That’s the background in the early church when families were faced if following Jesus was a good fit.

St. James tells us to "humbly welcome the word which has taken root in you". The Greek word prautes, translates as "humbly", really has no precise English equivalent. Basically, it is a one-word summary of the characteristics of a "teachable spirit". Such a spirit is docile and pliable, humble enough to learn; it is one that can face the truth, even when that truth is difficult to accept.

So here is the test if Christianity in its various facets is a good fit. James points out that caring for the poor and keeping ourselves open minded with open hearts is the best worship we can offer to God. To him real worship does not lie in elaborate vestments, magnificent music or a carefully choreographed service; it lay in the practical service of one another and in the way we accept one another as God loves us.

The prophet Micah's complaint was that all ritual sacrifices were useless, if a person did not do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God (Mic.6:6-8).

God is walking with us this morning when we pray: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:6)

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that a “teachable spirit” allows us to surrender our fears and trust that God leads us with open minds to accept all who walk into our churches with open hearts.