Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Voice of the Shephard

Jesus tells us that he is the “Good Shepherd” and that his sheep will recognize his voice among all other voices. In sharing this metaphor, he is drawing upon a practice that was common among shepherds at the time. At night, for protection and companionship, shepherds would put their flocks together into a common enclosure. They would then separate the sheep in the morning by using their voices. Each shepherd had trained his sheep to be attuned to his voice and his voice only. The shepherd would walk away from the enclosure calling his sheep, often times by their individual names, and they would follow him.

Ask yourself, how do you discern the unique cadence of God’s voice? Which is the voice of the Good Shepherd that you follow?
  • The voice of God is the one that most challenges and stretches us, I get a call to go to a college where an employee’s daughter has died of a drug overdose. When I chat with his co-workers, they share that when tragedy strikes, they find peace in the woods or by a stream that speaks to them that God is near and cares about them.
  • The voice of God is recognized when another co-worker shares his fears that his son hooked on cocaine will overdose. He promises to be that voice to offer compassion to that father who most likely is blaming himself for his daughter’s death.
  • The voice of God is recognized whenever one sees life, tragedy with a sense of humor. Another co-worker shares that he doesn’t practice any religion but his co-worker is a lapsed Catholic. I share that church is about people who welcome one another with open arms despite our imperfections. The young man asked me where do I find this church?
  • The voice of God is recognized wherever one sees dying, suffering and poverty, and we are called to bring comfort, support and generosity.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what calls us to what’s higher, sets us apart, and invites us to holiness, whether we are building playgrounds for the next generation or opening our doors to the dying with a hospice program or bringing food to the hungry.
  • The voice of God is always heard wherever there is genuine enjoyment and gratitude, even as it asks us to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and surrender all our selfish attitudes and behaviors.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and those who missed Mass this Sunday because they were barbequing chickens for their neighbors to know that God is calling you to come near to Him and never be afraid for He loves you with an everlasting love.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Green Fog of Envy

Be honest with yourself, everyone envies someone sometime. We envy those who get the promotion we sought or get to retire. We envy those whose talents seem better and whose families seem more intact. We envy those whose personalities glisten and whose gifts sparkle when placed next to ours. If envy is natural, like being left-handed, what's wrong with it?

Scripture offers several reasons to beware of envy. First, envy is not good for you. Proverbs 14:30 puts it bluntly: A mind at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones! Envy is numbered among the deadly sins because it can kill you. It can kill your joy, your hope, your peace, and your capacity to love. It can kill your faith and the sense of the nearness of Christ. It can kill your sense of fulfillment because, no matter what you do, someone has done more, or done it better, or done it faster, or done it with greater recognition and praise. Left unchecked, envy can kill everything that makes you a 'human' being. Envy rots the bones.

The second problem with envy is that it lures you into doing stupid things. I read about a merchant in a small town who ran a store across the street from another merchant. They were keen competitors and the one merchant began to envy the other. One night an angel appeared to the envious merchant and said, "I will grant you one wish but with the proviso that, whatever you want, your rival will get twice as much. If you want more wealth, more business, or more happiness, your rival will get twice as much. Now, what do you want?" The envious merchant replied, "Blind me in one eye."

A third problem with envy is that it can drain our sense of gratitude. We get mean and nasty when others accomplish some great task. Gratitude for those who had helped overcome a problem is washed away by envy over their success. Envy drains our personal contribution and saps the spirit of thankfulness for what others have accomplished.

How does one respond to the temptation of envy? Envy is a poisonous but powerful motivator in the lives of some people. If our feelings toward others are turning to envy, we must acknowledge this is happening. Excuses and alibis just don't cut it. "But he really is a jerk .. and .. she really doesn't deserve that recognition" are statements we can cloak in pious and professional language, but we do so at the price of evading the truth. If the temptation to envy or the spirit of envy is working in your life, name the beast. Do not perfume it, rationalize it, or excuse it. Call it by name. There is a big difference between calling a physical problem a 'boo boo' and calling it 'cancer.' Envy is spiritual cancer. Call it what it is.

In Philippians 2:3-11, Paul offers a response to envy. Do good to the one you are tempted to envy: "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).

If you are tempted to envy someone because of the position they hold, or the success of their accomplishments, double your efforts to help that person succeed in that position. If envy creeps into your relationships with others because of their higher performance, or their success with their career or relationships, or whatever, intentionally seek to do them some special good. "Count others better than yourselves," not as a put-down to your gifts but as a defense against the cancer of envy.

The problem with green eyes -- with looking at life through the lens of envy -- is that it turns everything it sees into the same shade of green. This is not green, the color of life, but the sickly green, the color you turn during a very rough day at sea on a very small boat. It is gradual. First you feel well, then you feel unwell; then you feel as if you are dying, then you wish you were dead, and finally you start to envy the dead! "Envy rots the bones."
Envy does not have to tint the life of the Christian. Call it by name when it tempts you. Do good for those on whom envy would have you cast a sneering stare. Refocus on the priority of Christ in your life. Channel your thought life into what builds up rather than what tears down. As you seek to do these things by faith, and with the help of God's Spirit, you will find the sickly green fog of envy lifting from your vision. You will begin to see life clearly, as God intends you to see. And the view is magnificent.