The Growing Season

branches against sky3rd Sunday of Easter (B)

It is April. Thank the Lord. But it has taken an inordinately long time to feel like it. I loathe winter. Well, that’s not entirely true; snow is pretty, particularly between Christmas and New Year’s Day. But in all seriousness, it is the darkness that accompanies winter that is so depressing to me. I need sunlight.

With each lost second of daylight in the fall months I move a little slower and my world becomes a little bit bluer. And with the end of daylight savings time, I want to put my jammies on at 5pm. Plants exhibit a phenomenon in their daily cycles, called circadian rhythms; my circadian rhythm tells me that when it is dark it is time to shut it down and go to bed. I know I’m not alone in this.

Of course, what I and so many others experience in the winter has a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder, but for me, it is so much more than SAD. It is a period of neutrality and dormancy that yawns on for months. Yes, winter is a long, dark and colorless season. Trunks and limbs stand gray and forlorn against a slate sky; formerly exuberant prairie grasses, shorn of all but a few desperate stragglers, flop against ice tipped mulch; rhododendrons and azaleas, the glory of the summer garden, dehydrated and emaciated, shield their nakedness with curled leaves. For native plants, this is a protective state; if they did not go dormant in the winter, they would die. I am not a plant, but if I were, I wouldn’t make it. I’d be toast. prairie in winter

Clearly, complaining about the weather is a first world problem, and it is tiresome. Seasonal affective disorder, however, has the power to sap one’s energy, undermine creativity, and on some days, affect the ability to move forward. Like those suffering a great disappointment and perceived loss of purpose, I need reminding that this season will pass. I know it will, but I pace. Oh, my God, how much longer?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples (those who had not deserted and run away) went into hiding. They were in darkness both literally and emotionally. They were deeply troubled and experienced doubts about the past and the future. Luke tells us the disciples had heard the claims of Jesus’ resurrection from the women who visited the tomb “but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” [Luke 24:11]. Peter took it upon himself to run and see that Jesus’ tomb was empty. The text does not say if Peter shared what he saw with the others, but later that day two of the deserters returned to the group and spoke of their own amazing experience of seeing the risen Lord, and “while they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” [Luke 18:36].

The disciples became aware that Jesus was with them and they experienced his peace. I like to imagine that at this moment a beam of warm, life-giving sunlight flooded the room and forced the windows to fly open. Suddenly the disciples heard Jesus reminding them of what he had said about the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Jesus was alive! They understood that from that day forward the proclamation and witness of all that Jesus had said and done would begin with them, starting in Jerusalem. With great clarity, each understood what Jesus commanded of them. They knew their mission. If not for this, the story might have stopped here. But it did not end. It never ends.

omg, tulips And then, like the end a long and difficult labor, the earth stirs, it thaws and heaves, and the dawn arrives bearing gifts of loamy, fragrant soil, of snow drops and crocuses, of the excited chatter of birds, and earthworms on the sidewalk, and it recalls an interior life once known and seen that now brightens limbs and bark and causes buds to swell and open. Every spring the miracle of its return, and the confidence with which trees and plants, birds and animals take up their duties stuns me. They just know what to do. I do too.

Why choose the dark, when we know the light?

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

One of the tasks on my husband’s to-do list prior to moving into our new home was to install dimmer switches throughout the house. This was a relatively large project for a lovely old place like ours which was originally built with multiple gaslights in every room. At some point in the home’s history the gaslights and chandeliers were replaced with electric fixtures and wall switches. Dimmers are awesome. Being able to control the light saves electricity and allows us to create a warm ambiance depending on the chosen level of brightness. (Also, I am told that people of a certain age believe they look a lot better when the lights are low.) But that’s not all, a dimmer does double duty by obscuring flaws such as chipped paint and cracked plaster—at least in the nighttime. Sadly, the gig is up by morning when the sun shines through the windows offering congratulations on our good taste in furnishings, and nagging reminding us of our neglect by announcing the location of every needed repair.

This light (pun intended) example is not very different from the way many of us live our lives, is it? Don’t we use a dimmer of sorts in our day-to-day dealings, living in the light when we are in right relationship, living in the shadows when we are not? We are skilled in deflecting responsibility and rather than change our ways we convince ourselves that a choice we continue to make is harmless, when in fact our actions create damaging ripples we aren’t aware of. Or we tolerate ideologies that we know are wrong and immoral, but the personal sacrifice that accompanies taking a stand is what really makes us uncomfortable. Even in the face of global consequences many of us refuse to take action because we “didn’t do it.” Not my trash. Not my fault. Not my problem. We furnish our darkness with denial.

“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” [John 3:19-21]

The question is, why do we choose the dark, when we know the light? Our lives can be transformed; it can happen in an instant if we are willing to allow the light in. Still the darkness beckons our return. Sad.

How about creating a to-do list that includes a new lighting plan for life? As an evangelizing people, we might ask ourselves, “If everything in my life (in my family, in our society, in this organization) was forever cast in the light of Jesus, what would it look like?” What kinds of changes would you need to make to remain in the light?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Stop the Violence!

2nd Sunday of Lent (B)

To say the story of Abraham and Isaac is difficult is a grave understatement. Abraham was a man whose longstanding personal relationship with Yahweh had developed over time through a series of tests and trials [see Genesis 12-22] and included a promise that he would father a great nation. Abraham had learned that Yahweh was trustworthy and kept promises; therefore he had no reason to doubt. But then he was asked to offer up his firstborn son to prove his worthiness. If a great nation was to come from this one man, his total commitment must be guaranteed. What better test  than to ask for what was most precious to him? Recall that in Abraham’s day human sacrifice was not uncommon. Also, recall that Abraham was prevented at the last minute from carrying out the sacrifice. He had passed the final test and became the father of the Hebrew nation.

Still, that happy ending does not change the fact the entire story line is unsettling and gruesome.  What kind of loving god would ask such a thing as a test of one’s faith? What if Abraham had objected? Maybe he did, but followed through nonetheless. We don’t know because the scripture does not tell us. Verses 3-8 which are omitted from today’s reading render an unemotional narrative of Abraham going through the motions: cutting the wood he would use, locating the place where the sacrifice would take place, arranging for there to be no witnesses, and carrying the fire and the knife that he would use to slaughter his son. Each step of the way the tension mounts, and Isaac’s innocent question about the animal they would sacrifice slowly reveals the horror of what is about to take place. The reader asks, “Is this really going to happen, is this what God wants?

Abraham’s anguish over what he thought he was being asked to do was not as important as his absolute knowledge that God is trustworthy. Surely he was confused and likely devastated by God’s request, but had personal knowledge of God’s love and faithfulness. This is the paradox of faith: the willingness to surrender what is most precious ultimately reveals the  bounty of what has been promised.

What does God expect from us? The the story is telling. At the very last minute Yahweh sends a messenger to stop Abraham, saying, “Do not lay your hand on that boy, do not do the least thing to him.” The message can be understood two ways. First, although we can’t fully understand God’s plan we need to trust that God truly has our best interests in mind. Our faith tells us this is true. Our commitment comes from our willingness to listen and  say “Yes, Lord” especially in times of extreme difficulty. Second, acts of violence are entirely in opposition to God’s plan for creation. God’s message is “Stop the violence!”  Rabbi Eitan Weiner-Kaplow of Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Synagogue explains: “In reading this story we recognize the critical lesson is that God does not want the death of human beings as a sign of faith and a sign of doing God’s will. Therefore the lesson for this time has got to be, we all have to come together to end war and stop the violence and stop the sacrifice and stop the killing.”

As an evangelizing people our witness to the Good News must reflect both of these points with a trusting commitment to God and an active commitment to peace.

ART: Section from Rembrandt’s The Angel Stopping Abraham from Sacrificing Isaac to God. 1635

Where are you staying?

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

What is the meaning of the question asked of Jesus in today’s Gospel? Were the two disciples who had just met Jesus really interested in his accommodations? Hardly. Scholars indicate the gist of their question was something like “What are you all about?” This was the disciples’  response to Jesus’ probing question “What are you looking for?”

Place yourself in the story. John the Baptist, of whom you are a follower, points Jesus out to you and proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God” [John 1:35-39]. Say what? So compelling is John’s statement that you depart from him  and immediately begin to follow Jesus who turns to you and asks about your heart’s desire, then invites you to come and see what he is all about. And you listen.

The scripture does not provide many details on what happens next, the conversation, or teaching, but it does indicate the time: four o’clock in the afternoon—the time of temple worship—which you spend in conversation with Jesus. Afterward, Andrew rushes off to find his brother Peter and brings him to Jesus, too.

This is how it happens. This is what it means to be an evangelizing people. Everyone who seeks Jesus needs to find out for themselves what he is all about. But when one enters into communion with Jesus they experience union with God! It’s impossible to keep something of this magnitude to oneself. It is up to us to respond to the call, give witness, and in doing so, lead others to Jesus, just like John the Baptist and Andrew did.

Today’s readings can be found here.

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. 

Be ready to follow Christ, wherever he goes


29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Excerpted from Living the Gospel without Compromise, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty

7cbf2-catherinedoherty“As we approach the call to evangelize and spread the good news we need to be extremely flexible in what we do and be attentive to new opportunities, openings, and possibilities that cut across our preconceived notions and beckon into ways and situations that we have barely assessed or perhaps never thought of. Be prepared for constant changes. We cannot be rigid in any way or undesirous of change. We seek a deeper impenetration or presentation of the Good News. It is important for us to use all modern means of communication and technology to put across the message of Christ.

Flexibility needs to be prepared for by observing, thinking, researching, and prayer. But it is important that we do all these together, as a united community. We need to beg the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right direction. If we look for the paths that God is already laying out for us, a new awareness, a new vitality, and new sense of challenge and adventure will come into our hearts. We need to be ready to follow Christ wherever he goes. For Christ has a way of going into unexpected places. He often directs us toward an end that we don’t yet perceive but that is just around the corner.”

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985) was ” was a woman in love with God,” a pioneer of social justice, devoted wife and mother, renowned national speaker, and a prolific author of hundreds of articles and several bestsellers, Catherine dedicated herself to being “poor with the poor Christ” in the slums of Toronto and Harlem and later established the world-wide Madonna House Apostolate. Catherine Doherty’s cause for canonization as a saint is now under consideration by the Catholic Church. http://www.catherinedoherty.org/


O Lord, Open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

The first time I learned that evangelizing was part and parcel of being a baptized Catholic my initial reaction was “Nope. Not me.”  I had one just reason to reject this teaching and it emerged from an experience I had of being confronted by an street evangelist who dogged me for two blocks demanding I tell him I was “saved.” This experience was repeated years later at a party attended by people of all faith traditions, including a few non-believers. It was a happy, social occasion that rapidly went down the tubes when one of the guests decided to share the tale of his Christian conversion, a story which included pressuring anyone within earshot to defend their own faith choices. Just like the guests at that party making a mad dash to the exit, I found myself looking for a way to distance myself from anything that even remotely resembled being an evangelist. And who could blame me?

Fast forward many (many) years. Unfortunate examples aside, I now embrace my role as an evangelizer and so should you. Because in the Catholic Church we are evangelizers, not evangelists. That job is taken. The Christian tradition already has four evangelists who gave us the Gospels. And it is on the stories and teachings of Jesus contained in those Gospels that we base our lives. In other words, we evangelize through our example of living the faith.

But what about public evangelization? True, there are settings where giving witness to our beliefs and spreading the Good News in a specific way is required. In his recent exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) Pope Francis calls this “informal and unexpected preaching,” which means “being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others … in any place, on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” The key for us is remembering that evangelization is never an opportunity to “market” Catholicism. Rather, it is a time to truly listen, and if appropriate, to humbly share the message of God’s friendship.  These are times when a spiritual wisdom, such as what God granted to Solomon, is needed. Make this request for spiritual wisdom part of your daily prayer, and don’t be afraid.  Pope Francis assures us with the words of Jesus that we should not lose courage; what we say will be suggested to us by the Holy Spirit [MT 10:16-23].

Today’s readings can be found here.