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.

Take the Long View

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Here we are again. Back to plain ole winter. Just over one week ago the Christmas season ended, and our families and friends, like the three kings, have departed for their distant lands. Like many of you, I reluctantly boxed up our decorations and my husband dragged our still-hanging-on-to-life Christmas tree out to the curb, both of us bemoaning the shortness of the season (but secretly happy to say good bye to the pine needles in our socks).

With our houses swept clean, it’s time to begin our progression through Ordinary Time, at least for the next eight Sundays, that is. Lent is right around the corner.

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time always eases its way into a fresh and shiny new calendar year, but this year for many people agita, insecurity, and apprehension about the future have dulled that shiny newness.

At times like these the temptation is to circle the wagons, allow ourselves to complain for a while and hope for the best. Happily, most of us care too much about the future to consider sitting on our hands. I’m in that camp, or at least I strive to be. Despite my occasional “Chicken Little” tendencies, I fight hopelessness and stagnation by taking the long view and making plans.

Earlier this month I reflected on the need for restoration, specifically restorative practices. I was reminded of the work of the late Dr. Erik Erikson, the brilliant German-American psychologist of the past century, whose exploration of human psycho-social growth from infancy through death identified a motivation which he named Generativity.

Generativity resembles the concept of “paying it forward” popularized by the heartwarming movie, Pay it Forward [2000], which, through a series of events showed that the world is a much better place when we share, ad infinitum, our good fortune with others.

Still, paying it forward is just the tip of the iceberg. Generativity is more nuanced; its source is nothing less than primal and its energy emerges from an expectation of a future—a hope for humanity. It is the longest of the long views. Generativity explains why some adults will, for example, plant a fruit tree they may not live to harvest, but do so knowing future generations will be nourished by it. Our current situation and how we handle it is far greater than how it impacts us.

Taken another way, when “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation” is contemplated Theologically, i.e. “where is God in all this?” we have to see that the compelling impulse behind generativity is love. Love of God, and love of neighbor, and love for God’s creation.

The writers of Sacred Scripture could not help but take the long view. They gave witness to the fruit of generativity; they grasped its divine source, they drank from its fountain and endeavored to illuminate the way so future generations would see God’s goodness as they did, and believe what they knew to be the truth.

The Prophet Isaiah, relaying the words God spoke to him, identified Israel as the Servant of God [IS 49:3, 5-6]. Israel’s return to their homeland after 70 years of exile was the evidence of God’s faithfulness to them. Yet, Isaiah made it clear that their survival alone was not the end of the story. “It is too little,” the prophet proclaimed. The future of all involved entailed carrying the message of God’s liberating power to the ends of the earth. In other words, Israel’s stunning transformation would be like a light to the nations: the entire world would see God’s greatness and be converted.

St. Paul understood this too. It was not enough that he had a personal experience of the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He was compelled to take what he knew on the road and share it with the greatest number of people for the rest of his life. Paul’s “generativity” is evidenced by the colossal growth of the Christian church in his day. Today’s second reading gives us a clue to Paul’s mission [1 COR 1:1-3]. At first blush it looks to be a typically wordy Pauline salutation, but attend carefully to Paul’s words. Far more than a “Dear friend, how are you, I am fine” Paul’s salutation discloses his grasp of the divine origins of his apostleship and the enduring nature not only of his role, but that of the Corinthian church, sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, from now on, and for all to witness. Pay it forward.

Even John the Baptist understood it was too little to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God. He knew it was not enough to preach a message of repentance and then baptize countless individuals for the forgiveness of sin. When he recognized Jesus, he knew there was more.

“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” [JN 1:29]

I wonder if the Baptist’s words comparing Jesus to a sacrificial animal sent a ripple of shock through the crowd. And, as if to explain how he arrived at this astonishing conclusion John continued, piecing his experiences together until everything he had done up to that point made sense:

“I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” [JN 1:31-34].

I also wonder if John realized then that his role in preparing the way for Jesus was nearing its completion. Didn’t he later take a step back from his work, out of the first-century spotlight, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”? [JN 3:30]

Be a light for the nations.

Who is expected to carry this light today? Look in the mirror. It is the Church—you and me—it is our prophetic role to be a light so that God’s goodness is visible to all, so that all may receive it and be transformed.

That’s generativity, that’s paying it forward. That’s how we keep moving forward, despite the darkness.

Happy New Year, light bearers.

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Readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

First Reading IS 49:3, 5-6
Responsorial Psalm PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading 1 COR 1:1-3
Gospel JN 1:29-34

One Earth. One God. Rise Up!

PBSnewshour91616.png

©PBS Newshour. September 16, 2016

I woke up in the middle of the night. When this happens, and to my growing irritation it happens frequently, it is for no good reason. Not last night, though.

One Earth. One God. That was the gist of last night’s dream. And those words wove themselves into the remaining four fitful hours of “sleep,” telling me that all faith traditions must pull together and respond as one to the crisis our earth faces. I know this dream was informed by the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline on PBS Newshour (9/16/16) and the powerful response of over 100 Native American tribes from all over the United States who converged at the Standing Rock Reservation in support of one another.

One Earth. One God. We have a unique opportunity to share our traditions, our respect for the Earth, our creeds and our creation stories for the good of the world.

The words, One Earth. One God are a way to think about an ecumenical response to the crisis that is rapidly unfolding in every corner of our planet. While we can do little more than passively experience climate change-related bizarre weather patterns, devastating storms and natural disasters, we can reject and stop the active and ongoing destruction of human and animal habitats and subterranean ecosystems by curbing our relentless appetite for fuel. If we wanted to, we could stop this.

In March of this year, I awoke in the middle of the night with a crystal clear understanding of God’s plan for creation. Really. It was as if someone turned on every light in the house and I could see without my glasses. I cycled the idea in my semi-sleep hoping it would find a place to settle until the morning when I could have a better look.

The majority of dreams vaporize. Our nocturnal wisdom dissolves, leaving us with disturbing traces, impossible to contain. This was no different. The following morning I tried to grasp its fleeting tendrils, but the only words I would write were “God’s plan is a complete reversal of what humans have come to believe is the natural order.”

Clearly, this is not a new idea. That the least shall be the greatest is at the center of the Gospels. At the time of my dream, it was Lent, and I was probably just rehashing what I was reading about the nature of God in the New Testament, that the Kingdom of God is revealed through the least expected, the poor, the small, the humble. The infant born in a barn, etc. It’s not a top-down world; it’s a bottom-up world.

The natural order is not the tree that drops the seed, it is the soil that allows the seed to sprout. But even soil needs to be disturbed for a seed to take root.

Isn’t it true that the material God uses is the ordinary, chaotic, unglamorous stuff? Doesn’t life begin one way or another in the dark?

Someone smarter than me once said ‘the bread can’t rise until the dough has time to rest.’ In the same way, it seems that our collective desire for change grows out of that kneading of life’s scraps, old jewelry and gravel, joy and heartache, injustices and kindness, successes and fatigue, strings and bits and morsels, late night talks, desperation and loneliness, and thirst. Everything is mixed together and kept alive like a succulent with spritzes of Holy water.

In that enormous pile, like in the dough, mysterious happenings are taking place. And no matter how many times the powerful of the world punch the dough down, it will always rise up in new and surprising ways.

Everything is Connected

EarthWaterDropI’ve only read a portion of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment, Laudato Si, and am already blown away. This from chapter 4, for example:

“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; . Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature” Laudato Si, 4.117

Read Laudato Si.

Interested in studying Laudato Si? The USCCB has prepared an excellent discussion guide for use in small groups. 

Nothing but the Best

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Investments can be tricky. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball? Then we would know that our choices would be sound and we’d never lose a penny. Better yet, we’d have a windfall every quarter. But we don’t. And unless time is on our side or we have a fallback plan, we generally aren’t willing to take chances with our money or with anyone else’s. Besides, taking risks is, well, risky.

But Jesus has a different perspective. When Jesus really wants to make a point he tells a parable. Parables are stories that seem to be heading toward a predictable conclusion but then suddenly the rug is pulled out from under the listener. There’s always a surprise ending, and it is often one that takes time to understand, like today’s from Matthew 25:14-30.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

You know the story. The first two servants went out and doubled their investment. They jumped right in. They weren’t afraid, they did not circle their wagons or hide whatever it was under a mattress for safekeeping. They used it in the way it was intended and it increased.

The third servant lacked trust. He did not trust his own ability to make a good choice, he did not trust what the talent might become, and he did not trust the one who gave it to him. The only faith he had was in the status quo. So he kept it to himself. So sad. Choosing to hide what has been entrusted to us because we are afraid does a both disservice to the object and to ourselves. But it mostly offends the one who provided us with the opportunity.

The metaphor of talent as used in the parable can be applied to any number of things: money, skills, intellect, etc. but for the purposes of understanding what it means to be an evangelizing people, it might be helpful to think of Jesus as the talent. By virtue of our baptism we are charged with sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and in action. We are called to invest ourselves in this task to the best of our ability and without fear. This is the story of Christianity and how it grew from a dozen or so believers to what it is today. So share it, increase it, enhance it, supplement it, prove it. Give nothing less than your best for God.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Think about these things.

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Who is the landowner? Who is the tenant? Who is responsible for cultivating what has been planted? Metaphors such as these found in today’s readings help us correlate scriptural wisdom with the reality of contemporary life. We can reflect on our God-given gifts and how we should develop and use them for the good of all God’s people; we can recognize our historically lax attitude toward the health of our planet and vow to be better stewards of God’s creation; we can strive to raise our children in ways that foster a desire to be good Christian, global citizens. We can revisit how in recent years prophetic voices have been ignored, even killed, just as they were in biblical times. And, on and on. Each of these examples are valid. But can today’s message be understood as more than a terse reminder to take good care of what God has given us?

A close reading of today’s scriptures, particularly the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, is revealing. St. Paul, who was incarcerated at the time and unsure of his future, wrote with great affection to the distressed community of Philippi which was nearing a potential split. His words take on the tone of a pep talk encouraging them to entrust their worries and anxieties to God and to focus on living peaceably even amidst differences. St. Paul exhorts them to consider the following: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” [Phil 4:8-9]

Taken together today’s readings point to respect, and as an evangelizing people we want to think about these things and give witness to them in all that we do. Respect for life. Respect for one another. Respect for what God has planted: in us, and in all of creation. And respect for the voices and example of those who courageously, selflessly, and constantly follow the example of Jesus Christ, and point us right back to God.