Give to The One Who Asks of You

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Yesterday, while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, I overheard the tsk tsk’ing of the couple ahead of me. It was wrong, I heard them say to each other, that ‘some people’ used their government benefits to buy expensive food. They turned to me, hoping for an affirmation to their audible grumbling about low-income people who “eat like kings”

Standing in front of them was a young mom with one toddler on her hip and another child by her side. She bought two half-gallons of organic whole milk, a container of organic yogurt, and a whole chicken, and she used food stamps to pay for them.

I mumbled something about her healthy food choices.

Two weeks ago we heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, who speaking for the Lord, made it clear that it is God’s will that we share what we have with one another. That we feed the hungry—not from our surplus or with our leftovers—but from the same table we share with our families.

“If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday;” [IS 58:10]

Lavish” and “satisfy.” To go beyond the letter of the law. And then your gloom will lift. Now that is really something.

Today, on the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A), we hear Jesus continue his teaching on doing more than the law prescribes.

“Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. [MT 5:41]

The suggestion that we go the extra mile, that we do more than what is expected,  was met with the same resistance in Jesus’ day it is today.

The kind of stinginess expressed by the couple in the grocery store shrinks and darkens our world. Indeed it is a lack of mercy which emerges from a sense of entitlement and a fear of scarcity.

Conversely, it is when we give of ourselves freely and without resentment that we experience the miracle of God’s abundance  over and over again; the light rises, we feel restored, not depleted.

Jesus told his disciples, “give to the one who asks of you.” [MT 5:42]

I recently came across the following vignette from Leontius’ Life of St. John the Almsgiver, the biography of the Saint who was a widower, a father, and later the patriarch of Alexandra (c. 560-619). It is striking for its contemporary resonance and is worthy of our prayerful contemplation.

“While there was a crowd of refugees in the city, one of the strangers, noticing John’s remarkable sympathy, determined to test the blessed man. So he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals (for he did this two or three times a week) and said to him, “Have mercy on me for I have been a prisoner of war.”

John said to his purse-bearer, “Give him six nomismata.”

After the man had received these he went off, changed his clothes, met John again in another street, and falling at his feet said, “Have pity on me for I am in want.” The Patriarch again said to his purse-bearer, “Give him six nomismata.”

As he went away the purse-bearer whispered in the Patriarch’s ear, “By your prayers, master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!” But the Patriarch pretended not to understand.

Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the attendant, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was the same man, whereupon the truly merciful and beloved of God said, “Give him twelve nomismata, for perchance it is my Christ and He is here to test me.”

The season of Lent is around the corner. Ash Wednesday is March 1. Traditionally, during Lent our attention is drawn to serving the poor. God’s abundance, however, is not seasonal and like the example set by St. John the Almsgiver, we are expected share it freely at all times.

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [MT 5:48]

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Readings for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st Reading: LV 19:1-2, 17-18
Responsorial Psalm:
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
2nd Reading: 1 COR 3:16-23
Gospel: 
MT 5:38-48

Comic courtesy of www.agnusday.org, the Lectionary comic strip, where each week Rick and Ted discuss one of the assigned readings from the Common Lectionary.

Click here to learn more about St. John the Almsgiver.

You have heard that it was said

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I’m tired of feeling angry. Aren’t you?

I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of good reasons to be angry and I’m not diminishing the constructive value of anger. Without a doubt, healthy expressions of anger hold a valid place in the human experience.

In fact, it is due to our outrage over injustices perpetuated by oppressive regimes against men, women and children, and greed-driven exploitation of the Earth that we work tirelessly to secure human rights and to conserve our planet’s resources for future generations.

As a Christian—like members of many faith traditions—I believe that humans carry the divine imprint: that we are each created in the image of God.

This belief is foundational to our faith: we bear the presence of God. I become so angry when I hear the words and witness the actions of professed Christians who seem to have a selective understanding of this belief. My anger and frustration has compelled me to add my Christian voice to the historical conversation surrounding basic human rights.

Constructively channeled anger is the driver behind our progression towards a more just society, but anger that does nothing but foment more anger is deadly and frankly, I’m pretty tired of it.

I’m talking about an unattended-bonfire-in-a-forest-of-dead-trees-on-a-windy-day kind of anger. I’m talking about anger that feeds off fear and seeks to destroy what it doesn’t understand. I’m talking about anger that is capable of causing figurative and literal death.

Anger is the core of Jesus’ saying against killing, which we hear on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). It is the first of six sayings about conduct, also known as the antitheses, included in Matthew’s gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount.

Each saying begins with Jesus introducing a known and accepted teaching of the law, “You have heard it said…” which he then follows with “But I say to you…” and an expanded command that requires greater attention.

 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.”  [MT  5:21-22a]

Yes, Jesus says, don’t physically kill each other. That’s pretty basic. But he adds that the kind of anger that leads to killing, that destroys relationships and causes deadly harm is to be avoided and reconciliation between peoples must always been sought.

Anger is growing, and it is wrapping its vines around every imaginable topic. While the vicious words exchanged online between people residing thousands of miles apart may not culminate in an actual murder, verbal expressions of hate wield the power to kill a person’s spirit and to shift the social dynamic away from the good.

We see this playing out in print and on television; we hear it coming from the mouths of our elected leaders. Virtual verbal combat also takes place where we live when we entertain private thoughts that diminish the dignity of another, even if we keep those thoughts to ourselves. We’re all guilty of it, sorry to say.

The other day— a particularly challenging media-saturated day—I watched a conversation between two strangers unfold into a hate-filled screed. Soon dozens upon dozens of people joined in the brawl. This kind of verbal pummeling between strangers is becoming commonplace all across the globe.

Many spirits were injured, if not slain, that day, including my own.

I took a step back and observed how anger was slowly sapping my spirit. A dark and brooding cynic with clouded vision was devouring my optimistic anything-is-possible, happy-go-lucky, creative self.

The constant reminder that the world is a mess is a self-fulfilling prophecy that like the sound of a dripping faucet can either drive us to madness or to a solution. Look, just because there is a 24/7/365 anger-inducing all-you-can-eat buffet of badness spread before us doesn’t mean we must partake in it. I think we forget sometimes that we have choices. I am choosing to push away from the hate buffet. (At least I’m trying to.)

In today’s first reading from Sirach (aka The Wisdom of Ben Sira, or Ecclesiasticus) the great sage touches upon the concept of free will—the power of choice.

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” [SIR 15:15]

Ben Sira’s lesson concerns the daily choices people face and what guidance, if any, they use to make them. Isn’t it true that each day we have multiple opportunities to choose life-giving words and actions over the alternative?

The author of the much abbreviated Psalm[1] which we sing today represents sojourners like you and me who are immersed in the world, its challenges and its joys, and who strive to choose the good and who turn with hope to the Lord for guidance, strength, stamina, wisdom, and spiritual knowledge.

Our choices reflect how we view the world and all of its occupants. We mirror the divine image in the ways we treat loved ones as well as with strangers. What we put in our bodies, and what we feed our brains, what we purchase, and the ways we steward the Earth: these are not easy choices, but we put our hope in what is good and just.

Consider the death of a seed and all the secret happenings that occur beneath the soil before the first tender shoot works its way into the light. The constant shock and awe of anger and our increasingly ugly and disingenuous attempts to protect and conserve our illusions seems to want to trample any tendril of hope trying to break through. We must not allow this any longer.

While many of Jesus’ teachings were framed in eschatological (end times) language, his concern was with the way his followers interacted with one another here on earth, that they love one another as he loved them. Matthew is very clear that Jesus expected his teachings to be observed: do what the teacher says.

Hope is not a wish. It is an expression of confidence. I want to return to that hopeful side, and hold tight to the expectation that with God’s grace the goodness of humanity will prevail, and that we will continue to harness our fiery opposition to injustice and use it creatively to seek understanding, and quite literally save lives.

This is the only way for me, at least.

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Readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: SIR 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119
2nd Reading: 1 COR 2:6-10
Gospel: MT 5:17-37

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[1] Psalm 119, with 176 verses, is the longest in the Book of Psalms. A poem of 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was sung or recited in worship with the goal of encouraging the faithful to walk blamelessly through life, to turn to the Lord for refuge, guidance and strength and to seek with praise and thanksgiving a greater understanding of God’s ways as found in the law, testimony, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, and promises.

God, Where Are You?

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Oh God!

Hi Susan. How’s it going?

I’m mad at you. Actually, I’m furious. And I’m nearly done with you.

Susan, why is that?

Well, for starters, where the hell are you?

I’m here. I’m always here. You know that.

Not feeling it. Not feeling it at all. Sorry.

Well. I am here with you. Trust me. What else?

Seriously? Are you kidding me? Have you been on vacation?

No. I am aware of what you are doing to each other.

And? Why do you allow it? What made you think humans could be trusted? What are you, a masochist?  What kind of Creator allows its own creation to destroy itself?  I’m done with you.

Don’t blame me. I don’t allow these things.

Yes you do, you always have.

There you are wrong. I don’t allow any of it. You do. The atrocities which you commit against one another and your intent to exploit the earth for personal gain, these are human choices. You raised up these human leaders, you gave them power. No, I do not allow these things. You, you are the ones who allow them to be. You always have. 

Why? Why does this have to happen?

I know why.  So do you.

What I know is that there is more good than evil in the world, and that there are a lot of people who believe they are doing your will.

But are they? I’ve been pretty clear about my will.

I know. Can’t you just do something?

I did. I am.  Do your part. I’m here.

I’m trying. It shouldn’t be this way, though.

Susan, I’ve been saying that forever…

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”[1]

Isaiah 58:6-12 (from The Message)

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Readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
Responsorial Psalm PS 112
2nd Reading 1 COR 2:1-5
Gospel: MT 5:13-16

Scripture note:  Compare the above translation of Isaiah 58:6-12 from The Message with Isaiah 58:7-10 from the New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE] found on the USCCB website for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). Both quite clearly state God’s will.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Message, it is a contemporary rendering of the books of the Bible, translated from the original languages and the New Vulgate by Eugene H. Peterson (with Deuterocanonical writings translated by William Griffin). Every chapter and verse was crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and the ideas of the original text in everyday language.

Why not intersperse readings from The Message with your own bible translation and enrich your prayer life, add layers to your comprehension of the Christian mission, and better actualize the meaning of Scripture into your interactions with others and with all of God’s creation? Try it, you might like it.

Click here for information on The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition

[1] Eugene H. Peterson. The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (Chicago. Acta Publications 2013) 1243.

What have we become?

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Yesterday I read the following statement made by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, against President Trump’s move to close our borders to immigrants, refugees, and all who seek a better life in the United States.

Statement of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., On Wednesday’s Executive Actions on Immigration

January 27, 2017

I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism.  The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens.

I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9).  Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” (Mt. 25:40).

Wednesday’s Executive Actions do not show the United States to be an open and welcoming nation.  They are the opposite of what it means to be an American.

Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts.  Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.

In fact, threatening the so-called “sanctuary cities” with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as healthcare, education and transportation will not reduce immigration.  It only will harm all good people in those communities.

I am the grandson of immigrants and was raised in a multicultural neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  Throughout my life as a priest and bishop in the United States, I have lived and worked in communities that were enriched by people of many nationalities, languages and faiths.  Those communities were strong, hard-working, law-abiding, and filled with affection for this nation and its people.

Here in Newark, we are in the final steps of preparing to welcome 51 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is only the latest group of people whom Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has helped to resettle during the past 40 years.  This current group of refugees has waited years for this moment and already has been cleared by the federal government.

They have complied with all of the stringent requirements of a vetting process that is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.  Catholic Charities, assisted by parishes and parishioners of the Archdiocese, will help them establish homes, jobs and new lives so that they can contribute positively to life in northern New Jersey.  When this group is settled, we hope to welcome others.

This nation has a long and rich history of welcoming those who have sought refuge because of oppression or fear of death.  The Acadians, French, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Vietnamese are just a few of the many groups over the past 260 years whom we have welcomed and helped to find a better, safer life for themselves and their children in America.

Even when such groups were met by irrational fear, prejudice and persecution, the signature benevolence of the United States of American eventually triumphed.

That confident kindness is what has made, and will continue to make, America great.

http://www.rcan.org/statement-cardinal-joseph-w-tobin-cssr-wednesday%E2%80%99s-executive-actions-immigration

Then I read the astonishing comments from self-identified Catholics against the Cardinal, against Pope Francis, and against anyone else who objects to the Trump administration’s inhumane agenda, which frankly is directed against people of color.

These so-called Catholics will stand in their pews this weekend professing their faith in the One who dwells within the stranger. They will hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah: “seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger”[Zeph 2:3]. They will sing the words of the psalmist, “The Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free.” [Psalm 146]. They will listen to admonishment of St. Paul against Christians who boast of their righteousness [1 Cor 1:26-31], and hear Jesus’ words honoring the defenseless among us and insisting that we do the same, regardless of the consequences [Matthew 5:1-12]. They will give each other the kiss of peace, and then they will place the Eucharist in their acid mouths and return to their homes to cheer an agenda that is the antithesis of everything Jesus represents.

Some serious soul searching is called for. What have we become?

I also have to work hard to resist rising feelings of animosity against my fellow Christians who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if he knocked on their door and yet dare to use, for example, an image of the Sacred Heart or Blessed Mother or Michael the Archangel or St. Therese the Little Flower as their profile picture and proceed to spew politically motivated venom on good shepherds who speak the truth. Professed Christians who feel justified spitting on Jesus’ face with their vitriol. Jesus wept. So do I. So should you.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

MT 5:1-12

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Readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

1st reading: ZEP 2:3; 3:12-13
Responsorial Psalm: PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
2nd Reading: 1 COR 1:26-31 
Gospel: MT 5:1-12A

What actually will make America great again?

sad-rain

I have to forgive these people? I have to pray for them?  After what they have done?  So many dark thoughts. Not Christian thoughts at all. Thoughts I normally would reject with all of my might.

Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and prayer are repeated throughout the gospels and are frequent themes on this blog. But I was in a dark place that day. Even my dog knew it. She turned away from me when I picked up her leash. Instead of an exuberant response to her favorite activity she stood still, her long tail pointed down as I snapped on her harness. The date was 11/9, the day after the presidential election, but in some ways it felt like 9/11 to me.

Like many Americans, I felt my home was now located in a strange, inhospitable land. Throughout the day I experienced some of the fear, shock, insecurity, and disorientation that haunted me and others for many months after the events on that terrible September morning 15 years ago.

About mid-day I decided to deactivate my Facebook page. Earlier I huddled with my friends online, while others gloated and thumped their virtual chests as if the presidential election was part of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The words “drain the swamp” and “how’s it feel to be a loser?” and an undisguised blood lust filled my news feed, because electoral victory was not enough.

Others offered snarky shoulder-shrugging comments about “change, finally” interspersed with suggestions that poor losers should get over themselves. There is nothing quite as menacing as a vindictive winner, and this, following the most hostile, hate-filled campaign on record threatens to be the kind of contest where every citizen will be the loser.

It is my firm belief that there is a life-giving aspect to every experience, no matter how dark, but hard as I tried I was too broken up to locate it. So, before disabling my Facebook account I reached out to my friends and asked them to share their wisdom on the subject.

The idea of forgiveness worked its way into my thoughts and later, umbrella in one hand, dog leash in the other I worked my way up the street and began my silent rant. Forgive? Forgive who? Doesn’t forgiveness first require someone asking for it? Does forgiveness even come into this conversation? And who should be forgiven? Forgive us Lord, for we know not what we do.

fall-sadnessI picked up the pace, walking faster and more fiercely than I ever had, slogging angrily through piles of leaves littering the sidewalk—unraked fiery gold and persimmon leaves, their wet fragrance rising towards me. I walked along streets shiny with rain and reflected red maples, my poor dog moving as fast as she could behind me. I was surrounded by the colors and scents of fall’s glory. Look up, look up. I saw it all and I didn’t care.

I was angry with God. I was angry with the church and the 51% of Catholics who from my point of view voted against the full teachings of Jesus Christ. I blamed the Bishops for their inconsistent teaching on Catholic social justice issues and their failure to demonstrate God’s mercy in this Jubilee year of Mercy. I blamed those who willfully ignore the words and example of pope Francis whose eyes are trained, as ours should be, on the Lord.

Pray for them.

I stormed past the grand home of a wealthy neighbor and whipped the bag of still warm dog poop at the political sign taunting me from their lawn. Maybe they will need to learn how to mow their own damn grass and clean their own damn house and take care of their own children after their help is deported.

Sigh. Oh Susan.

Oh God. 

Remember, I never claimed to be The Good Disciple. I only strive to be.

The heaviness in my chest slowed my gait, and the sky opened with my tears which stung as a reminder of their source—the perception that The United States’ slow but steady progress towards a more inclusive and just society had just been halted.

I didn’t want to pray for these people, but I did go back and retrieve the bag of dog poop from their lawn. And as I stood up to continue walking home in the receding daylight and porch lights began their timed announcement of the days end, I became aware of the silence. No cars, no planes, no dogs barking, just the patter of the rain, my dog’s nails tapping on the pavement, and my sniffing. I offered a prayer for healing and asked for forgiveness. We are all mourning our country in some way. Forgive us Father; we know not what we do.

What is life-giving about this experience and other similar situations throughout the world? Dear readers, it emerges from the fact that this cuts us so deeply. We mourn our broken union. But our progress towards a more inclusive and just society has not been halted, we just have to work harder at it. We need to insist on being community with one another, to console and listen and work to build bridges across our painful divides.

The life-giving element—what actually will make America great again— is our collective agreement to act on behalf of one another because we are human beings. We know what to do.

This is the wisdom of my friends who responded from both sides of the debate.

 “The America that we know and the rights of every community of Americans will remain sacrosanct. The darkness will lift – the weight of this enormous shock will lift and our faith will sustain us.”

“Activists will be born today.”

“But life-giving for me is the truth that God will use this experience to strengthen the resolve of those who stand for true social justice, across the board, from womb to tomb. Love always wins. Love always wins. Love always, always wins.”

“Love, reason, and compassion are the antidotes to the hatred of the campaign. We have to continue working for the common good.”

“People who normally would be passive will now be activists for justice. We need to be vigilant now more than ever.”

“Let’s reflect (St.) Paul’s words, “where abounds sin, over abounds grace” Rom 5:20… let’s be positive … and get involved, and claim “our” country back, with kindness, love, charity, mercy, all those Christian virtues that tell who we are!”

“Feeling despair does not help and does not change anything. Instead, continue to raise the important issues – whether that is through getting involved in politics or volunteering with an organization.”

What is your response?

Help Wanted: Prayer warrior. No need to apply. Start today.

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Has there been a time when the need for prayer has been more urgent? Actually, yes, there have been worse times than this, and for millions of people living around the world, what many of us might call the “worst of times” is nothing compared to their “every-damn-day times.” And that, I believe, is a very good starting point for reflecting on the readings for the 29th Sunday of ordinary time, year C.

From the first reading to the last we witness endurance in prayer, patience, and action. There’s Moses, whose unceasing prayer empowered the Israelites to defeat their enemy [EX 17:8-13]; the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s constant care and protection [PS 121]; Timothy receives instruction to lead his community with persistence and patience [2 Tim 3:14-4:2], and we learn from the parable of the persistent widow and the dishonest judge that justice is served to those who persevere [LK 18:1-8].

In the past week I have read and reread and researched and notated and meditated on these passages. And every day, like many of you, I have read articles online and in print, one after the other, and in the evening my husband and I watch news hours that report on the glut of injustice and the growing anxiety of our world’s citizens. There is a sense of helplessness arising that threatens to turn to violence at any moment.

Like a drum keeping time the words, wisdom, wisdom, beat with the pulse in my ears. I place my hand over my heart and feel, kindness, kindness. Even the cycle of my breath drives me to repeat the Tonglen, the prayer found in Tibetan Buddhism: I inhale the pain of the world, I exhale compassion.

I hear the widow’s cry for justice, I am using both my love of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus Christ to do my part in the world, I am assured of my creator’s protection along this obstacle strewn path on which we all travel, and I am trying mightily like Moses to keep my hands lifted in prayer.

But like some of you, I grow weary.

This holy path, our sacred journey, our wilderness wandering leads us past scenes of oppression that we are duty-bound to correct. Most recently our attention is given to the rejection of vile attitudes, lewd comments, and physical assault that demean and damage women. We reject this with the same fervor that we reject racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism, antisemitism, and all prejudicial ideologies that derive energy from hatred. We do so because human oppression is an insult to the divine image in which we are created; we do so because when we actively correct wrongs perpetrated against one another we reflect the life-giving nature of God.

Pray. Pray harder. Pray for wisdom, guidance, stamina, courage, and patience.

As long as Moses held up his hands in prayer, the Israelites were successful in fending off their enemy. The widow’s persistence resulted in her attainment of what was rightfully hers. And Jesus assured his disciples that not only will God respond to the prayers of the chosen ones, God will do so without delay.

But our prayers are not answered without delay; at least they don’t seem to be. Maybe in God’s time they are, but we humans have been waiting a long time for justice to be served here on earth. How much longer must we persevere, Lord?

And that’s the thing. Both of these readings raise theological difficulties. Why must we ask God repeatedly for help, why can’t God just fix what is wrong? After all, all things are possible, we are told. What kind of God requires unrelenting requests for help?

The cry of the psalmist is our own, “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; whence shall help come to me?” [PS 121]

In response to a recent story posted online about the harrowing plight of refuge children displaced by incessant bombing in Aleppo many readers commented that they were sending prayers to the affected children. Within seconds someone said, “Save your breath. Prayer is useless.” Similar comments expressing contempt both for prayer and for those who believe in God soon followed.

Prayer doesn’t work that way; God is not a magician and we are not babies who hold out our hands and pout until we get what we want. Frankly, to suggest that God doesn’t exist because the messes humans create are not magically cleaned up by God is a sign of immature faith and stunted spiritual development.

The answer to prayer is not its immediate fulfillment but more of a clarification of what we are seeking, and a strengthening of our resolve to take action. Jack Shea writes, “God suffuses the hearts of those who pray with justice, and then with empowered hearts they bring this justice into the affairs of earth.”[1]

Prayer guides our growth into full humanness and spiritual maturity and gives us the courage and the strength to bring about a more just world. Prayer is life-giving!

Whatever form our prayer takes, let’s attend to the action God’s response compels us to take. Let’s keep our arms raised at all times and enlist the help of one another lest we grow weary with the effort.

“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [2 Tim 3:14-15]  

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[1] John Shea. The Spiritual Wisdom of Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: The Relentless Widow. Year C edition. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press. 2006. Page 291

Forgive Us Our Sins

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Are you having a hard time? Me too. I’m a prayerful person, a faith-filled person. But the world feels heavy; bleak is too flowery a word to describe it. Frankly, what I’ve witnessed in the past twelve months has nearly stunned me into silence. And when there are no words I know it is time for me to enter into a period of even deeper prayer and reflection.

The concise version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel—just 38 words in my translation—provides a much needed anchor. That economy of words does not equate simplicity however, particularly as regards the reciprocal nature of forgiveness.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God will forgive us in the same manner that we forgive one another [Luke 11:4]. Considering our track record I think we need to attend more closely to our end of that bargain. Shall we?

I’m also struck by the last verse of today’s gospel in which Jesus reveals that the answer to our prayers comes in the form of the Holy Spirit [Luke 11:13].

How often have we complained that our prayers go unanswered, and how close are some of us to giving up on prayer altogether (a.k.a. Is God deaf to our cries?) when perhaps it is we who aren’t listening. Maybe we ignore the stirrings of the Spirit, especially when the alternative means we are the ones who must change our ways.

All that ignoring has somehow brought us to this place.

The response to fear which is playing out in social, economic, political, and religious arenas here in the United States and all around the world is to seal ourselves off from having to deal with one another, but in doing so, we are in danger of suffocating in the stench of our own waste.

Come on. Please forgive my ineloquence, but we have to do better than this.

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(I’ll be taking the next few weeks off from posting on The Good Disciple to air out my house.)