A message based on the gospel of Saint Mark, chapter 5.
Pulled Up through the Roots –
It was late last night when I finally sat down and read scripture for the day. It was Psalm 1. I read it as rain pounded on the roof, truly one of life’s most beautiful sounds. We’ve been dry lately. The storms have passed us by leaving the ground, trees, and plants desperate for water. Earlier in the evening, I thought I heard raining so I turned off all the fans and listened as it pinged on our porch’s tin roof. I checked again before heading to the bedroom and it was still coming down.
Psalm 1 says this:
-The Two Ways-
Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or be counted among the malcontents;
their delight is in the of the Lord and his way,
and on him, they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so
but are like dry leaves and bark that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not be found innocent,
nor sinners among the people who are humble;
for the Lord watches over the way of all,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
I reflected on these verses as I listened to the rain and it was a great reminder not to be an unpleasant person, not to choose a way of life that only benefits myself, to be rooted in God, pulling up through my roots; love, kindness, humility, and bloom in a too often evil world.
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Traditions can be wonderful but they can also bring the heaviness of the past and a longing to live there.
I recently finished my Christmas day calls & texts to family and friends. Some are doing well and others have had a rough 2013. Family members and friends separated by varying circumstances including death, traditions once highly valued now gone, have a way of making this day dreadful instead of joyful. I spoke to someone this morning who began to cry while saying she would “be alright in a little bit.” I told her not to make this day anything other than what it was, a hard one, and if the mourning of what has been is needed to get to what is and what will be, then embrace this season of change.
Traditions are wonderful and should be cherished but when they change or cease, as all things do, maybe the gifts of acceptance and letting go is what we need to unwrap this year.blessings of peace, bdl
The following has become a tradition at our Christmas Eve service. The telling of the J.B. Philliips’ story titled “The Visited Planet.”
Once upon a time a very young angel was being shown round the splendors and glories of the universes by a senior and experienced angel. To tell the truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”
“That,” replied his senior solemnly, “is the Visited Planet.”
“Visited?” said the little one. “You don’t mean visited by ——–?
“Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to you small and insignificant and not perhaps over clean, has been visited by our young Prince of Glory.” And at these words he bowed his head reverently.
“But how?” queried the younger one. “Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendors of His Creation, and millions more that I’m sure I haven’t seen yet, went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”
“It isn’t for us,” said his senior a little stiffly, “to question His ‘whys’, except that I must point out to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them – how else do you suppose could He visit them?”
The little angels face wrinkled in disgust.
“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
“Close your eyes for a moment,” said the senior angel, “and we will go back in what they call Time.”
While the little angel‘s eyes were closed and the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning, spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual rotation.
“Now look!” And as the little angel did as he was told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a time.
“Well, what am I seeing now?” queried the little angel.
“You are watching this little world as it was some thousands of years ago,” returned his companion. “Every flash and glow of light that you see is something of the Father’s knowledge and wisdom breaking into the minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and quietly to them all the time.”
“Why are they so blind and deaf and stupid?” asked the junior angel rather crossly.
“It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendor have no idea what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the Voice like the sound of many waters every day of over lives, but to them – well, there is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and wise hear His Voice. But watch, for in a moment you will see something truly wonderful.”
The Earth went on turning and circling round the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels hid their eyes.
“I think I can guess,” said the little angel in a low voice. “That was the Visit, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even with your eyes closed, the light will go out.”
“But why? Could He not bear their darkness and stupidity? Did He have to return here?”
“No, it wasn’t that” returned the senior angel. His voice was stern and sad. “They failed to recognize Him for Who He was – or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him.”
“The fools, the crazy fools! They don’t deserve —-“
“Neither you nor I, nor any other angel, knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don’t deserve. But the fact remains; they killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them.”
“And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and dark. All right, I won’t judge them, but surely that is all they could expect?”
“Wait, we are still far from the end of the story of the Visited Planet. Watch now, but be ready to cover your eyes again.”
In utter blackness the earth turned round three times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light.
“What now?” asked the little angel, shielding his eyes.
“They killed Him all right, but He conquered death. The thing most of them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves.”
“Thank God for that,” said the little angel.
“Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has gone. The Prince has returned to His Home of Light. But watch the Earth now.”
As they looked, in place of the dazzling light there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times little points of light spread out. A few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily, and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow over many areas.
“You see what is happening?” asked the senior angel. “The bright glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the Earth.”
“Yes, yes,” said the little angel impatiently, “but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each other? Will it all be light, as it is in Heaven?”
His senior shook his head. “We simply do not know,” he replied. “It is in the Father’s hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this little ball is so important. He has visited it; He is working out His Plan upon it.”
“Yes, I see, though I don’t understand. I shall never forget that this is the Visited Planet.”
The mother of a 3-year-old thrown to his death from a 52-story Manhattan apartment building said the father killed the boy — and then himself — out of spite.
Svetlana Kanarikov said in a statement that she had been nervous about her son’s visits with his father, and she initially wanted them to be supervised. But she relented after a Dec. 5 court appearance.
“The father never did anything violent against the child before,” Kanarikov said of the two previous visits in a statement issued Monday night through a lawyer. “Both times, Kirill was happy after seeing his dad. Skype calls were also going well.”
Police said Dmitriy Kanarikov threw the child from the rooftop of the building before jumping to his own death Sunday.
He had picked up Kirill at 10 a.m. Sunday at a Manhattan police precinct — a neutral site negotiated in advance by the parents — to spend time with him for the first time unsupervised.
The couple had been married four years and separated in August, and Svetlana Kanarikov said she had taken action after a domestic violence incident. Their split was acrimonious. In addition to Kirill, Dmitriy Kanarikov had wanted their house and other property, too, Svetlana Kanarikov said.
“He said he would take the child away and I will ‘shoot myself from grief,'” she said. “This was his sick way to take Kirill away from me.”
She said he had told his parents that he was taking the child to Grand Central Station but instead went to the building on the Upper West Side and killed himself and the child.
Officers responding to an emergency call reporting two jumpers from the building near Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center found Kanarikov, 35, of Brooklyn, and the boy on the lower rooftops of two separate nearby buildings.
The man was pronounced dead at the scene and his son, Kirill Kanarikov, was pronounced dead at a hospital, police said. A witness said the boy was wearing Christmas pajamas.
“Kirill was a very sweet, wonderful child, who was loved very much,” his mother said. “He will forever live on in my heart.”
1 O Eternal, our Lord,
Your majestic name is heard throughout the earth;
Your magnificent glory shines far above the skies.
2 From the mouths and souls of infants and toddlers, the most innocent,
You have decreed power to stop Your adversaries
and quash those who seek revenge.
3 When I gaze to the skies and meditate on Your creation—
on the moon, stars, and all You have made,
4 I can’t help but wonder why You care about mortals—
sons and daughters of men—
specks of dust floating about the cosmos.
13 No one has ever journeyed to heaven above except the One who has come down from heaven—the Son of Man, who is of heaven… 15 all those who believe in Him will experience everlasting life.
16 For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life.17 Here’s the point. God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge it; instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction.
Both stories above illustrate great truths.
The first and most obvious is that we are capable of inflicting great pain and hurt through our own selfishness and desire for power and control.
The second is we need something greater than ourselves to show us how to be greater. We need a hope that is greater than our capacity for depravity.
We are made, designed, purposed to live lives of light in a dark world. Only when we shine can others find their way.blessings, bdl
Apparently he was “paying his respects at a grave in a Brooklyn cemetery and was hurt Sunday — when the tombstone suddenly toppled over on him.” Read the rest of the story here.
Most of us can relate to this story. Though we’ve probably never been trapped by a death marker we’ve had experiences with things we thought were dead and buried only to have them come back and cause us pain. Maybe it was a habit we tried to kick, a relationship assumed fixed, a careless word figured forgotten, a prejudice rarely seen or a betrayal we were sure we had gotten over.
Oftentimes it can seem that just when we feel we’ve moved past negative, harmful and hurtful events in our lives, ready to leave the past for dead, they have a way of coming back to haunt us. When this happen we begin to wonder if we have made any real progress towards becoming wiser, stronger and more mindful.
The answer is “yes.” Life’s journey is rarely a straight path. It has a way of leading us to places we have been before to remind us of what we’ve learned and to teach us new things.
Remember, just because the past comes alive again doesn’t mean you have to live there.blessings, bdl
“May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.” – Saint Francis of Assisi
Growing up in South Carolina there was a large section of mostly undeveloped land behind my childhood home. As a kid it was a great adventure to hop the fence in the backyard and go exploring. Fields, forests, waterfalls, streams and gulleys kept me occupied for countless afternoon and weekends.
The problem was when you were the next “Indiana Jones,” fighting bad guys, saving damsels and humankind, you couldn’t be bothered with inconveniences like keeping your bearings. Fortunately for me there was a road that cut through my personal playground so no matter where I was, if I saw that road, followed it, I would end up back home. It was my compass.
In a world which continually seeks to guide us to who we need to be and what direction our life needs to take, we need clarity and mindfulness to discover and stay true to our purpose and calling.
Some of the most desperate people I’ve met are those with no bearings, no sense of who they are, no compass, no way to get home. They come in all shapes and sizes, young and old, male and female, educated and not. From leaders of large organizations to janitors, folks who aren’t sure what they’re supposed to look like, who they’re supposed to be.
Each of us needs help discovering who and what we are, it’s not a journey we can take by ourselves. We need friends, family, co-workers to travel alongside us, hold up a mirror of our true selves, help us see what we look like and if our lives need a course correction.
We need each other to show us the way home when we get lost.blessings, bdl
“Give us the grace to love the silence. In the history of salvation, neither in the clamour nor in the blatant, but the shadows and the silence are the places in which God chose to reveal himself to humankind.
The imperceptible reality from which his mystery, from time to time, took visible form, took flesh.
The Lord always took care of the mystery and hid the mystery. He did not publicize the mystery. A mystery that publicizes itself is not Christian; it is not the mystery of God. The shadow of God in our lives helps us to discover our own mystery: the mystery of our encounter with the Lord, our mystery of our life’s journey with the Lord.
Each of us knows how mysteriously the Lord works in our hearts, in our souls.
The cloud (of mystery) in us, in our lives is called silence, the silence is exactly the cloud that covers the mystery of our relationship with the Lord, of our holiness and of our sins. This mystery that we cannot explain. But when there is no silence in our lives, the mystery is lost, it goes away. Guard the mystery with silence.
Silence is that which guards the mystery, for which the mystery of our relationship with God, of our journey, of our salvation cannot be… publicized.”
Pope Francis concluded; “May the Lord give all of us the grace to love the silence, to seek him and to have a heart that is guarded by the cloud of silence.”
When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good. We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves. We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God. Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.
Thank you for the new day.
Thank you for this work.
Thank you for this family.
Thank you for this daily bread.
Thank you for this storm and the moisture it brings to a parched earth.
Thank you for the corrections that bring me to growth.
Thank you for the bank of crown vetch that brings color to the hillside.
Thank you for the necessities that keep me aware of your bounty in my life.
Without doubt, unstinting gratitude saves us from the sense of self-sufficiency that leads to forgetfulness of God.
Praise is not an idle virtue in life. It says to us, “Remember to whom you are indebted. If you never know need, you will come to know neither who God is nor who you yourself are.”
Need is what tests our trust. It gives us the opportunity to allow others to hold us up in our weakness, to realize that only God in the end is the measure of our fullness.
Once we know need, we are better human beings. For the first time we know solidarity with the poorest of the poor. We become owners of the pain of the world and devote ourselves to working in behalf of those who suffer.
Finally, it is need that shows us how little it takes to be happy.
Once we know all of those things we have come face-to-face with both creation and the Creator. It is the alleluia moment that discovers both God and goodness for us.
More than half a decade on, we’re still missing 976,000 jobs — and we’re missing 12 million jobs if you figure that jobs should grow as the population grows.
But it’s one thing to be economically afraid. It’s another to be cut off from fully celebrating America’s all-race, all-religion family holiday because you and your fellow Americans are fearful economically.
That’s what’s happening to millions of retail workers who’ve had to work on Thanksgiving for the past half-decade.
Stores aren’t opening on Thanksgiving because they’re doing well. Just the opposite: They’ll open because they’re not doing well.
And that’s because their customers aren’t doing well.
Consider: Walmart starts “Black Friday” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, pushed from 8 p.m. last year. Though it’s long offered drugstore-style round-the-clock hours at some stores, the company has grown markedly more aggressive since 2008, with Black Friday promotions on Thanksgiving Day.
And what Walmart (with its 150 million customers) does, other stores imitate.
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the Davidowitz & Associates retail consultancy, calls it a “war-zone” retail mentality. The reason: Retail sales have recovered — but that recovery mirrors what’s going on in the economy. “The top 10 percent do 40 percent of the spending,” notes Davidowitz.
The top 10 percent are doing fine — so Tiffany and Saks are doing OK. What about everyone else?
Sales at Walmart’s US stores have fallen for much of the past year.
Before 2008, people could take money out of the rising value of their homes to pay for shopping, says Robert E. Schulz, a retail analyst at Standard & Poor’s. Today, people will buy a car if they need one, but they won’t buy a closetful of cheap clothes.
Discerning shoppers mean desperate retailers.
Other retailers “being open on Thanksgiving is almost inevitable, given what we’ve been seeing,” said Kristina Koltunicki, also of Standard & Poor’s. Plus, this year’s Christmas shopping season is one weekend shorter than usual.
But why should being open on Thanksgiving help?
Behavioral economics. Get people in for a “one-time only” deal, and even if “doorbuster” stuff is gone early, they’ll buy something to justify the time wasted.
This “doesn’t make any sense for anybody,” says Davidowitz. The stuff on sale now will be even cheaper in a few weeks.
And wealthier consumers know that. Davidowitz says the top 10 percent are “definitely not out there” on Thanksgiving. (The exception may be the foreigners who pour into Manhattan, but they can wait a day.)
There’s nothing wrong with marketing ploys. But there is something wrong with preying on people’s impulses to the extent that they are sacrificing time with their families for one day that shouldn’t be commercialized. Time is the real gift.
And it’s worst for people who are in the stores involuntarily.
Sure, firefighters and police officers have always had to work on the holiday. But they make good pay. Plus, saving someone’s life is different than selling someone a LeapPad2. (And yes, restaurant and hotel workers toil, too — but that’s no reason to make more people work than necessary.)
Some stores do stay closed — and their employees appreciate it.
Rob Petrella, the store manager at a PC Richard & Son in Manhattan, says this is “the one day out of the year I see everyone in my family.”
This year, he’s looking forward to seeing an aunt he hasn’t seen in several years — because she’s been working at Walmart.
Omotayo Riley, who works in sales at the same store, notes that with the day off, he’ll “go to my mom’s house and my wife’s mom’s house.” He’ll enjoy his mom’s cooking, and his mom can enjoy her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter and the toddler’s teenage sister. It would be “just terrible” to work, he says.
Gregg Richard, the PC Richard CEO, says that his firm has been running an ad noting their closure for 18 years. But people have only started noticing in the past few years — as more and more stores either open or lose sales to Walmart or to online-only retailers. “We feel it is a family day for our 3,000 employees,” he says.
It’s shoppers, not the government, who should force stores to close.
If you’re tempted to skip pie to go buy a cheap tablet, remember that the tablet will be obsolete by next Christmas — and your kids, too, will be a year closer to being grown up.
Have I seen
Around the corner
Young mother in wheelchair
Pushed by sensitive son
Legs limp and thin
After the accident?
Or at the store,
Frail, neatly coiffed elder
Mere inches from the eyes
Hiding her blindness?
Or young man
In the one good suit,
Seeking again today
That job of promise
In the wake
Of broken promises?
Or single mother
In the parking lot,
Trying to contain
Who cry, compete
For so long they were invisible.
But then came
A Great Pain,
And in connection.
A slip from the ranks
All in the mercies of Providence.
And I see them now,
And I feel the pulse
And reach out.
-written by Doug Blair
When young it was hardly noticed or thought about,
though it would be forced upon consciousness when someone’s time had come,
their number called and appointment time arrived,
causing a pause of sorts in our lives, but soon gone.
This waiting can be experienced in many ways,
some pleasant, others not, yet there always;
like an itch seeking our attention and perhaps contemplation,
though I suppose it is something not welcome most times.
The inner silence speaks to us in quiet whispers,
“listen to me, this is important”, yet often the voice ignored,
as the appointment moves forward a little closer
to its meeting point with us.
As the years fly by the voice harder to shut down,
for some fear grows, others a peace of sorts takes root,
many still able to ignore its gentle reminders,
to seek what they are really about, what they are for;
that life has deeper meanings than many suppose.
Some leave early, others late, very late,
yet when the moment comes and the meeting happens
it perhaps seems as if it was always so,
so fleeting the intervening years.
-written by Brother Mark Dohle, OCSO, of Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, GA
Years ago, as I mention at our retreats, back around 1993, I was asked by the monks at the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemane Farms, Kentucky, to stay over on a Saturday night, a wonderful experience in that prayerful, peaceful place where — for decades — there was the vow of silence (no longer). In fact, the next morning, after Mass, when I had breakfast with all the monks, one of them told me he had been the room-mate of famed Trappist writer Thomas Merton’s for more than twenty years, yet had never spoken to him (if we can imagine!).
But that wasn’t what I most remembered about breakfast that day. It was our little round-table discussion on near-death experiences.
During that chat the monks described how there had been a short, jovial, and uplifting brother-monk who’d recently died, a treasure of a man who was always smiling and making others feel good about themselves. In my mind I pictured a monastic version of Mickey Rooney: energetic, jolly.
What I remember most is the description of how this monk died.
The monk, in his older age, had fallen into a deep coma, they told me; they took turns holding vigil around him. I don’t recall if it was for hours or days. The upshot was that after an extended time of total unconsciousness the monk had shocked them by suddenly coming to, sitting up with a start, looking at them happily, calling out, “Ciao!” — and then collapsing back into a coma and death with a smile on his face. That’s the way I’d like to go: with cheer. With a smile. We all can.
This was a monk, I would speculate, who enjoyed purity; who had accomplished what God had for him to do; who was free from the shackles of this passing world because he had released what he had to release and cut himself free from his last hold.
Have we? Have you? What binds you? What may be your last hold” — or holds (plural)? What might still keep you tied to this earth and cause fear? For we all have holds — burdens, “hang-ups,” sin challenges, inclinations, temptations — that we must shake free from to avoid purgatory. What keeps you “hanging on”? What do you hold onto? What are the “hang-ups” that could trip you up on the way to the best entry into the eternal?
A hold is a root cause of imperfection.
And it’s like the web of a spider, a thread that is nearly invisible and yet super-strong.
Like what a spider spins, it can grow and interconnect with other threads that entrap us and keep us bound to this place of exile with fear instead of joy. It can be lust, which at its base is the inclination to generate a powerful force or emotion, including anger, jealousy, gluttony, greed, and sinful sexuality. Lust is a root hold. So is anger. So is pride — for sure. Ego. Money. We hold on to such imperfection like a first-time parachutist might hold onto the door of a plane not wanting to make that first jump. Every cardinal sin is a “root hold.” As author Janice Brown Carbon points out, in her book, Fully Alive!, some of us remain caught in an infantile mode; we have traits that are narcissistic, that are selfish, that are “me, myself, and I,” that cause us to be impulsive and difficult to get along with; that compel us to self-gratification. We lack empathy. I would add that we are argumentative. There is also the childish thinker, the person — those among us — who avoids conflict, who seeks to get along with everyone, who has a good heart. That’s all fine — as long as it doesn’t include insecurity and trouble saying “no” even to evil. A childish spirit can be a real benefit if it isn’t motivated by fear and guilt.
There is the adolescent in us.
Hallmarks of that: motivated by anger, oppositional, reactive, no respect for authority, claims not to care, self-defeating, difficult, has trouble saying “no,” but also, writes Carbon, will not accept “no” for an answer.
What is your “last hold”? What weighs you down? What repeats (and repeats, and repeats). What transgression or inclination and temptation or unforgiveness do you still hold dear?
Like gunk, we must ask God to reach His Hand through us — to the very bottom of our souls — and remove it.
Every last drop of sullied water must be emptied or it will sully the pure water poured into us.
No water is pure once it’s mixed with tainted liquid, no matter how vaguely tainted the mixture is.
This should accompany Confession.
We all can do it.
We all have time.
And when it happens, we are light as a bird. We’re free. We are untethered and fully feathered (for full eternal flight).
On a deathbed, we may even be able to wake from a deep swoon to send final love on those who love us with the simplicity of a word like, “Ciao!” and a smile before passage into what is timeless, through stars that, as in time-lapse photography, form a passage around us.
Any properly catechized Catholic will tell you there are seven sacraments. I’m thinking of starting a movement for the Church to recognize an eighth (or at least, perhaps, a “Seven.A”)—one called parenthood.
The notion occurred to me last week, when we were in California to celebrate our son Chris’ ordination to the diaconate. At some point, the conversation turned to the special qualities of the sacrament of Holy Orders—including the fact that it’s one of three (along with Baptism and Confirmation) that’s said to conferan indelible mark on the recipient.Great word, indelible:
adj. 1. Impossible to remove, erase, or wash away; permanent.
The perfect word, I realized, to describe the bond between parent and child, father and son. And it is a sacramental bond, in my experience—a physical sign, an often-corporeal action, that confers grace.
This “eighth sacrament” blessed me in an extraordinary way last Thursday evening, shortly after we arrived in Berkeley, and connected with Chris and his Jesuit community for daily Mass. As is the custom in our family, we joined hands at the ‘Our Father’ – Chris and I. And in that simple action, I was instantaneously transported back some 32 years in time …to when my then-infant son first wrapped his tiny hand around my index finger.
Chris at 6 months
I knew in that long-ago moment that Chris had introduced me to a whole new dimension of love—a lesson that would only deepen with the birth of each new child in our family. I’d read about unconditional love, of course, and might have even considered myself capable of it prior to becoming a parent. But until these bearers-of-grace came into my life, I don’t think I really understood the concept in any substantial way.
Gerri and I with all our children (and grandchild-on-the-way!)
Indeed, it may be the most profound gift parents receive from their children – this insight into how God loves. When you meet your child for the first time, you know the relationship is not performance-based. So, too, with the Holy One: Weneed do nothing… we can do nothing…to earn God’s love. It’s already there, from the very first glance or touch or smile. This is precisely what it means to be a child of God.
As they grow older, our children often find other ways—both simple and spectacular—to channel additional graces into our lives. I can now report that ‘ordination’ ranks right up there as among the most intense and memorable of such opportunities. I was blessed to be there last weekend in more ways than I can count…but the moment I was touched most indelibly came during Mass on Sunday morning – Chris’ first opportunity to preach as a deacon.
Receiving the diaconate stole from his Uncle John
He chose to focus on a familiar theme, drawing from the words of St. Paul to Timothy: ‘You know from whom you learned it.’
‘It’s worth noting that, for most of us, this business of learning about God is a family affair,’ Chris said. ‘Even now, I can look around this room, and I see my first evangelists, my Godfather, my baptizers, my models of Christian joy, my community of love and acceptance…
‘We all have these stories. We have all received from someone who received from someone who received from someone. Which is the deeper truth in the end…None of us can stand up here in the middle of church and insist that we don’t owe anyone anything. We all have depended on the testimony of others in a vast web that reaches back all the way to the time of Jesus and beyond…
‘Today, I invite you all to join me as those who joyfully recognize our bankruptcy – our fundamental and total indebtedness. Whether in prayer or in conversation, I invite you to return to those faces, human and divine, who have preached to us the Good News of salvation. And I humbly suggest that you turn to them and say what I say here now to you: Thank you.’
Assisting at Mass with his uncle, Fr. Bob Reiker
And so I found myself being blessed once again – by a son, ministering to his father. I knew, as I heard Chris’ words, that it was definitely going to leave a mark on my heart. An indelible mark.
I have been sober since 1980. That’s 33 years now. That was a hard thing for me to do. It is not so hard now, but I still need my Father to do it… every day.
Just showing up to life is a hard thing for me to do. In fact, in order to keep my life together sober (plus do the other hard things), and to not blow up into a million pieces, I need to maintain a constant conscious contact with Him… from sunrise to sunset… so He can do this for me.
I have been obsessed with suicide since I was 5 years old. The hard thing was to put the suicide option down… for good. Today I am suicide obsession free. I’ve been free since 1997. That’s 15 years now. But what is on the other end of not committing suicide? It is living life here on this planet…. that is a hard thing for me to face. So I must rely on my Father also… to face this life with me.
I was a hider from people most of my life. While growing up I never made a single friend. Being sociable, having social interaction with people, was a hard thing for me to try. But, with Father’s Love and Power, I have been trying to do this hard thing for a while now. Through Him, I’m finding myself able to be sociable in my Bible study at church. With my Father’s Power, I have been practicing learning everybody’s names. I very much need Him near me, remembering the names… for me… and giving me the courage to go up to them and say “Hello”. Then I must rely on Him to help me interact with them in a sane manner.
Right now I am in the middle of letting go of junk food. I think this might be one of the hardest things I will tackle in my life. Yet as I’m writing this post I know at this moment that if I want to get even closer to my Father I must face it. Letting go of the junk food is a very hard thing for me to do. But I know that, through Him, I can do this too.
* * * * *
But there’s more to this than just doing a hard thing. The trick is you have tokeep doing it every day… day after day… week after week… year after year… without let up.
Doing it one moment at a time.
Doing the hard thing this way, for the long haul, can break a person in two. It can become earth shattering. But that’s the whole idea. Being broken, through pain, is absolutely necessary. You need to become broken in order to let God and Jesus fully into your life. Jesus said He wants us to be “broken”. Doing the hard thing… over the long haul… will break you.
“If your hand or foot causes you to sin,
cut it off and cast it from you.
It is better for you to enter into life lame
or maimed, rather than having
two hands or two feet, to be cast into
the everlasting fire.
It will be painful to do, there’s no doubt about that. We don’t do hard things precisely because they are painful. It can be, and hopefully will be a “buckling the knees” painful; a “fall on your face and beg Him for help” painful. This is a necessary step to becoming broken.
The pain will produce anger. For a little while, before you break, there may be lots of this. It can become a “I hate you God!” anger. That’s ok. But when you do get angry (and you probably will), don’t keep your anger from Him. Let Him have it with both barrels. He knows about the anger and He can easily handle it. Horribly angry or not, He loves you and His love is without conditions. He will never leave you just because you’re mad.
For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31: 6 & 8
Then, as you continue doing your hard thing, you will come to understand what this “breaking” is all about. I cannot explain it to you. You will have to experience it for yourself. Only then, will you be forced to develop a very strong, and honest, relationship with your Father in Heaven. And, as you slowly break, you will come to the realization that it is no longer you who are doing the hard thing, it is Father doing it… with Love… through you. And you will know how strong a Love your Father has for you.
So pick your hard thing.
If you want to know Him in the most intimate way possible….
Pick your hard thing.
I dare you. I double dare you.
* * *
Peace and Feloreaw to You, dear Father in Heaven
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
We live in a wilderness, a wilderness of noise. Noise is not just about sound. It has to do with the constant barrage of stimulation to our senses, emotions and even our intellect, (read information overload.) The problem with all this noise, pure and simple, is that it is an obstacle to our own inner order and peace, and more importantly, to a living communion with God and with others. For some reason, many of us either seem afraid of silence, or, more likely, we have lost familiarity with the wonders of silence. Yet it is essential to our physical and spiritual well-being.
Authentic silence is not emptiness. Things come to us in the silence. We hear new languages. We are visited by penetrating peace, insight, God Himself, His wisdom, light, His perception and understanding. In authentic silence we hear new sounds and enter new worlds. In silence we come to know our own hearts.
It is interesting to note how often people observe that the sounds God has put in creation: wind rustling in the trees, birds chirping, the lapping of waves at the ocean, are a balm to the soul. This stands in stark contrast to the agitation and disturbance created by the sounds of the modern world driven by mechanical energy and a volume, a pitch that does violence to one’s nerves, stressing them beyond what they are meant to endure. Silence is almost completely exiled from our modern culture. Yet it is exceedingly important for us.
Silence in fact is so important to us that it may be one of the main reasons God has structured us to sleep a third of our days. We know that when we can’t sleep, when our bodies and minds are deprived of the stillness good sleep brings, we become sick. Anyone who struggles with insomnia knows the anxiety and frustration lack of sleep brings. “If I could just sleep, I would feel better,” is the all too common cry. For those saints who were able to pray the night away and not be ill-affected, it was because they entered a deep contemplative silence that so rejuvenated soul and spirit, the body was refreshed and strengthened by it…
In the Liturgy, given to us by God through Moses on Mt Sinai, and Jesus at the Last Supper, there are spaces for silence. That tells us that silence is part of a Divine Rhythm, part of the rhythm of life in Heaven…it tells us silence is a good thing, a medium for God’s communication of Himself to us. The lives of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, in particular, bear striking witness to the inseparability of silence from great holiness.
In those who are progressing in prayer, in the inner experience of the presence of God, silence becomes a medium for God’s deeper and deeper communication of Himself to the soul. St. Teresa calls one of the early stages of contemplative prayer, the Prayer of Quiet. God begins to suspend, or silence or still the human activity of the mind, the will, the memory, the imagination, the passions, so that He can communicate Himself more deeply. And in that, the soul itself begins to be healed of its defects and weaknesses and disorder. St. John of the Cross poetically describes this as: “My house being now all stilled…” He goes on to say that once there is this stillness (which comes through real purifications) the soul is now able to go out to find God without hindrance or distraction. This, by the way, is often something one sees in those who are going through the process of dying. They become strangely quiet in the months and weeks preceding their deaths. It is as if they no longer have words. In the activity of God in their souls, as they are being readied to enter eternity, they often go through, all at once, the purifications as well as the sweet visitations of the Lord,
that the person who prays regularly, goes through over a period of time.
We are all interested in healing these days. This is the true healing we seek, that which comes to us from God Himself, the Divine Physician, and which heals us from the inside out and orders our inner being to bring it into communion with He Who is our ultimate bliss and fulfillment.
If we want to be healthy, we must cultivate spaces of silence in our lives. Not the isolating silence so many live in, but a silence that nurtures peace within and communion without. One place to begin is to keep our Churches as sanctuaries of silence, not places for chit chat.
Another concrete step is to actually set aside real time for silence. Silent prayer. Not vocal prayer but a prayer of presence, of being, in silence, in the presence of the Lord, even for 5 minutes a day, preferably in a place where there is no outside noise. (That may be early in the morning before the rest of the family rises.) Simply ask the Lord to take you into Himself for five minutes, to be still and know that He is God.
Over 100 years ago, Maria Montessori noted that children have an innate need for intervals of stillness and silence, silence for her, meaning the cessation of every movement:
“One day I came into class holding in my arms a baby four months old, which I had taken from the arms of its mother in the courtyard. … The silence of the little creature struck me, and I wanted the children to share my feeling. … To my amazement I saw an extraordinary tension in the children who watched me. It seemed as though they were hanging on my lips, and felt deeply all I was saying. “Then its breathing,” I went on, “how soft it is. None of you could breathe as it does, without making a sound…” The children, surprised and motionless, held their breath. In that moment there was an extraordinary silence; the tick of the clock, which generally could not be heard, became perceptible. It seemed as if the baby had brought with it an atmosphere of silence such as does not exist in ordinary life. This was because no one was making the smallest movement. And from this came the wish to listen to the silence, and hence to reproduce it.” Maria Montessori (The Secret of Childhood).
She created the “Silence Game” in which children begin practicing this kind of silence for small intervals at first (even 30 seconds), and then for longer periods. There is a joy the children, (and the teacher) experience, when they are able to do this. They later come to ask for the Silence Game when things become chaotic or noisy, recognizing that this silence has the power to restore their inner peace and equilibrium. Then, as a year progresses, the silence begins to happen spontaneously, within the whole group. The children will look up when this happens, smile, and go back to their work. The natural, contemplative spirit of the child, over time, is released.
It may seem like passivity to focus on silence when the world is screaming for answers and actions to address it’s many grave problems. Yet, “if The Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.” Likewise, the walls of Jericho would never have come tumbling down, nor would the people have persisted in the right action, if they had not consulted and stayed faithful to the Lord’s rather odd directions.
It has become an almost urgent necessity today, to ask Our Lord and Our Lady to lead each of us to the kind of silence we speak of. The release of a true contemplative spirit among us, one in which the Lord lives and moves us, will, in the end, be the key to the salvation of our modern world.
Luke 17: 5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. one of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. she thanked him and departed. as the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “brother,” the second monk replied, “she needed to get across the water so I helped her, i set her down once we reached the other side, why are you still holding onto her?.”
Here’s what’s happening in our text…
Jesus has just given two stories about the difficulty of being wealthy and a follower of Jesus.
Jesus then says to his followers:
17v1&2 “Occasions for stumbling (skandalon) are bound to come but woe to anyone who causes another to stumble! 2 It would be better for you if a large rock were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to fall.
What causes one to stumble and who are these little ones Jesus is protecting? Jesus is greatly concerned with the plight of those who are oppressed, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Jesus chastises the religious leaders about not seeking those who are lost and not caring for the sheep, the people of Israel. Chapters 14-16 Jesus has warned and challenged those who have to give away their wealth by taking care of those who do not have. The little ones are those in need help and cannot help themselves.
The Gospel of Luke portrays God as having a special place in his heart for these “little ones” who cannot protect themselves, provide for themselves and are in need. Those who have plenty are responsible for helping those who have none. God’s concern should be their concern. To not meet their needs is to place a stumbling block in their path. This goes against God’s nature and his kingdom.
Jesus then gives a warning…
17v3&4 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent’, you must forgive.”
Prosexete! Which means “PAY ATTENTION!” Jesus then tells them how to handle those who are lawbreakers, sinners…he tells them to offer forgiveness and don’t stop. Keep forgiving, even “seven times a day” which means complete forgiveness, no limit. There is no bottom to the well of forgiveness in Jesus’ followers.
Through out the last 3 chapters of Luke Jesus has been talking directly to the disciples but is aware there are others listening in. Some are religious leaders. Jesus, aware of his audience, compares and contrasts. To his followers he says “do & be this way ” to the Pharisees “you should be and do but aren’t.”
Faith on steroids…
The apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And the Lord said, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Notice that the word “Lord” Kurios in Greek is used twice. This means what is being said is authoritative. It is important and should be heeded. It is a royal proclamation.
Jesus, since Luke 9:51, is journeying toward Jerusalem. As he goes he is giving the disciples his core instructions. Part of these teaching concern the pitfalls of increasing wealth, holding and being held onto by worldly treasure.
The disciples, like us, slow as always, follow Jesus’ teaching on decreasing by asking for…? Increase. True it is an increase of faith but they still aren’t grasping Jesus’ upside down Kingdom. Jesus responds that even with the smallest faith they could topple trees into the ocean. Faith isn’t about increasing it’s about decreasing.
The disciples are having a hard time buying into what Jesus is selling. “If you want us to do what you’re asking, believe what you’re saying, we need more than regular faith, we need steroid faith!” How can little faith uproot trees? How can giving up treasures give us something more valuable? How can the meek inherit the earth? It just doesn’t make sense. They ask Jesus for increased faith to believe this Kingdom way is even possible. Desperate, needy, knowing they don’t have what it takes to do this on their own. Jesus has them right where he wants them. It is when the disciples see their need that Jesus can help them.
For followers of Jesus it’s not about more. It’s never about more. It’s about recognizing our poverty. We are indeed lame, blind, lost, wounded, in need.
Jesus has already condemned the religious leaders, who have lost their way, by seeking to increase in worldly wealth & prestige. Seeking increase and not decrease has caused them to miss their calling to seek and save the lost. Next to the disciples are living, walking, talking examples of how increasing corrupts.
Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1;
For the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …God made foolish the wisdom of the world…some demand more signs and some desire more wisdom, but the gospel of Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength…not many follower of Jesus are wise by human standards, not many are powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; what is weak to shame the strong; what is low and despised to shame the high and exalted.
Jesus is telling them that striving to gain more, even faith, is not what the Kingdom is all about. To be aware of our need keeps up dependent on God for all things. We decrease so our dependence on God will increase. The more we depend the more God provides. It is not great faith that moves mountains and uproots trees but the God whom our faith is in.
To understand our weakness is to know God’s strength. Jesus’ desire for the disciples is for them to be totally depend upon God’s provision.
Getting over ourselves…
Jesus finishes by saying,
But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, who comes in out of the field, will say to him, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’. But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something which I might eat, and fastening garments, serve me as I eat and drink, and after this, you will eat and drink’? Does he not have grace to the servant because he did the things commanded? And you also, when you have done all the things commanded you, you say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.'”
This seems harsh but Jesus is helping the disciples see that whatever they accomplish for the Kingdom is not by great faith but by the greatness of God.
Saint Martin of Braga says; “Behold, this is true Christian humility. In this you will be able to achieve victory over every vice, by attributing to God rather than to yourself the fact that you have won.”
Listen to the servants response to the master; “We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.” Jesus is saying “it is because I have called you, I have equipped you, because of me you are able to be a part of the Kingdom.”
It is not by great faith, great talent, great skill, great blessings that anything is accomplished for God. Only when we get over ourselves and our desire to be greater, to increase do we understand. We’re just servants. We aren’t in charge. We just do what we are told. We are totally reliant upon the master.
We have such a hard time understanding the whole decreasing concept. Giving it all up is how we gain. Sacrifice, not hoarding, scares us. We think it is only by our great faith, great talent, great…whatever, can we do great things for the Kingdom. We need to get over ourselves.
The good news is God keeps forgiving because we keep forgetting. He doesn’t give up on us. It is in the needy, the lame, the blind, the lost, the forgetful, the stubborn, the not so bright, that His love shines the brightest.Psalm 32 …“Let the faithful offer prayer to God. The Lord is with us in times of distress. When the rush of mighty waters threaten they will not reach us for You, O’ God, are our hiding place. You are preserve us from trouble. We offer You our praise of deliverance. Lord, instruct us and teach us the way we should go. Show us how to depend on You. May we listen and take to heart what You want to teach us. Let us not be stubborn and go our own ways. Let Your steadfast love surrounds us. May we trust in You for all things. Let us be glad and rejoice that You are our God. Amen” — — bdl
“Blessed are those…who walk in the light of your presence.” Psalm 89
This Psalm was part of my Vespers (evening) prayer. Even as I prayed this Psalm I took notice that the light of summer is quickly fading. Soon, too soon?, I will not be able to do my evening prayers on the porch overlooking the fields in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.
The prayer phrase that arose from this Psalm was simply “let me walk in the light of your presence.” For a contemplative, prayer is more listening than talking, more penetration than ovation. We still our minds and allow the text, most often a Psalm, to speak with words we could not form.
“To walk in the light of your presence” brought with it an insight of light and presence being the same. There is no light without presence and no presence without light. God is the light and the presence. He does not bring these things with him they are him. To be without him is to be without light and presence. Only in his light do we know what it is to be present and know presence.
Almost all of us have the experience of being in a mall or office building when the electricity fails and watching people gravitate to the small emergency lights while they wait for light, life?, to be restored. A shared memory of the power going out at home yet walking into a room, flipping a switch and expecting light to illuminate our surroundings.
Maybe walking with God is this way? Sometimes his light fills every space and we are aware of his presence almost without searching. Other times we try and recreate a moment where God seemed near only to “flip the switch” and nothing happens. Those times when the presence seems to recede and we look for even a sliver of light, enough to see by until life is restored.
Light must be present for it to do us any good. A light in a room we were in doesn’t shine in the room we are in presently. A light in a place where we might go is useless unless we end up in that space. God’s light, his presence are present, in this moment and yet we often want him to shine in a place we are no longer in to see what we’ve left behind or could have been. We long for light to reveal to us where we might go, some day, some time, in the future.
Perhaps we should learn to be content to walk the part of the path we are presently travelling. Let the light and the presence accompany us presently. We cannot walk where we were and walk where we are going if we are walking where we are…
just a thought…
light and presence,