How busy is your life?

Published on 06. Jul, 2014 by in Sunday Homilies

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welcomehome“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” I suspect that many people know this experience: the busy parents chauffeuring kids to various sporting practices and games to the corporate executive traveling with the demands of their career, to the elderly grandparent giving their children a bit of a break by babysitting so they can have an evening out. It is easy to get caught up in the barrenness of a busy life.

But here is what is surprising about the quote. Somehow, you would suspect that this would be a somewhat modern day quote, befitting the hectic pace of our times. You’d be wrong. The author of the quote was Socrates – who died 399 B.C. Here was a man who spent more than his fair share of time thinking and reflecting. And a man who learned all about the dangers of restlessness that comes from filling every moment of every day with some kind of activity. Beware of that, he cautions. There is a restlessness that comes from being too busy, too full of activities, even if they are fun activities, even if they are good things to be involved in. Sometimes our business is a way to hide our emptiness. If we never have time to stop and think, we don’t have to face the fact that we are so lonely and so disconnected. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Jesus knew that same reality – in the people of his generation, as well as in his own busy life. He himself was always a man on the go, constantly meeting people, healing, teaching, traveling – it would have been easy for Jesus himself to fall prey to that busy kind of life. There is a way, he tells his disciples, not to get caught in that trap. There’s a great freedom I know, an easy burden, a light yoke – this kingdom way of living. Because it comes from a rested, restful soul. It comes from a place of freedom and not a place of “have to…” Take MY YOKE upon you and learn from me. There is a path to take that will keep you refreshed from within, that will be like a fountain spilling over inside of you.

Yet, as often as I have prayed that line and thought that line and reflected on that line, here is what I missed. I, in my busy-life-mindset, jumped right to the conclusion: take my yoke upon you; learn from me. “I can DO that. I got the doing of stuff down. And already I am in the doing world. But there is a necessary pre-step, a necessary condition that allows the path of kingdom living to become an easy yoke. “COME TO ME!” Without that step, every yoke we take, even if done in love, becomes an experience of barren business.

So, I have been struggling to find an image that will last, a way of thinking about this first part of kingdom living that will keep me focused on the essential point of Jesus’ teaching. And God was very good at providing it. Friday night, when I came home from fireworks, I was flipping channels on the TV – and caught the end of the Tom Cruise remake of War of the Worlds. Here is the image that I want you to have in your head about this invitation – to COME TO ME!

There is a scene, after all the action is over, when Tom is carrying his physically and emotionally exhausted child down the empty street to the Brownstone where his ex-wife lives. The door opens and mom appears on the steps. Dad sets his daughter down, and without a word, without an invitation, she simply RUNS pell-mell down the street, oblivious to anything but THROWING herself into her mother’s arms. The camera angle shifts, and now you see the silhouette of a teen framed in the door, the son, whom Tom was sure was dead. And even though he is much older than his little sister, also quickly makes his way down the steps to his dad, and after a moment of just looking in his eyes, also throws his arms around his father in this huge bear hug.

THAT IS WHAT JESUS wants us to know when we are trapped in the barrenness of a busy life. It is what has been revealed to the little ones – that we simply come and throw all our burdens, all our pain, all the weary emptiness and struggles of our lives into the amazing bear hug of grace and love with our Lord.

What a difference it would make, if we learned to approach our God with our burdens and weariness with that same childlike abandon…

P.S. – (at end of mass) If you want another image of the “Come to ME” part of today’s gospel – then do a web search and type in: “Soldier homecomings”. Click a link, almost any link, and image the homecoming you see there as what God wants you to do daily…

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Peter and PaulThere are times when I feel out of my league. When the technology committee convenes, I can follow the big picture ideas and streams of thought. But when they start talking jargon and the nitty gritty, I KNOW that I am not smart enough in this area to add anything, other than to help keep the conversation moving forward. I suspect we all have areas of our lives like that. We don’t know the field, didn’t keep up with the reading on the subject, or perhaps, simply are not good at something (like math.). That is one level of being inadequate. And that has more to do with what we know or don’t know.

But there is this other level, isn’t there – of the times when we feel like WHO we are is not enough, and will never be enough. Perhaps you know that when you leave the hospital bed or nursing home or stop by a family member’s house just after the hospice care nurse left. What could I possible say to make this situation better? How can I ‘fix’ the unfixable? I felt that this past Tuesday after lunch with my friend with ALS and his wife. Somehow you feel that you not only have nothing to give, but that who you are is not nearly enough either. Do you know that experience?

It would have been easy for Peter and John in the first reading to succumb to that. They are fishermen, a long way from home, and from their livelihood. Their ‘bank’ in terms of resources available to them is back in Galilee and they are in Jerusalem. And they are ‘accosted’ by a beggar at the gate. Not much in their pockets to give. And you know how some beggars can be – with those piercing eyes and guilt inducing glance – “DO SOMETHING to help! Anything to help! Please!” In my prayer image of the scene, he skewers them with this glance.

Watch what happens next. Neither Peter nor John shrink away from that moment and its opportunity. They are aware, perhaps painfully, of what they don’t have. Silver nor Gold – the stuff which ‘gets things done’ in the world of both those days and our day. They are out of their league in terms of making a long term difference in the life of that beggar financially. Just as we are completely not up to the task of ending hunger or disease, etc. in our time. Yet, instead of succumbing to that feeling that ‘who I am is not enough’ – they charge right into that man’s life. Not – “I got nothing for you,” but rather: “Here is what I have to give you.” And they trust that their love for Jesus will be enough in this man’s life.

Paul would have had even MORE reasons to think that who he is would never be enough. He describes himself as a “persecutor of the church BEYOND MEASURE”, and “a zealot beyond his own contemporaries.” And yet, there came that moment on the Damascus road where all of that comes crumbling down. Everything that he had defined his sense of self by – his zealousness, his religiosity, even his persecution of the way – none of it is enough. Who he thought himself and created himself to be – Paul the Jewish Pharisee and Zealot –was so, so wrong. But, like Peter and James, rather than be paralyzed into inaction, what do we hear him doing? Recreating his entire identity in the one place where he does matter. “When God, who FROM MY MOTHER’S WOMB had set me apart…was pleased to reveal his Son to me…” then who he was was enough. ONLY from that place, from his identity in Jesus – does he know that what he is is ALWAYS enough.

As the church celebrates these two pivotal Saints who stand as the pillars of our faith, let me suggest just one way of praying and reflecting this week. Namely this – Finish the statement that Paul lived with his life and that Peter and John voiced in the first reading from Acts. “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you.” What IS it that you have to give away? What is it that you give to God, to your neighbor, your spouse, your friend in need. And, like Peter and Paul, stay with that uncomfortable question until the only answer that rings true is the only answer that matters: What I have to give, is my Lord’s love of me, in me, for you….

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breadUnless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

You probably have heard these words a hundred times, a thousand times in the course of your life time. I came across this poem in the blog: “A Concord Pastor Comments – On Spirituality, Worship and Prayer in the Roman Catholic Tradition” which opened up a bit more of the mystery of today’s feast. I share it with you now in the hopes that it might do the same for you.

You have to listen with all of you
to hear the white-green shoot
pushing, rubbing, scraping up through
cool, moist earth: wheat being born.

It’s a comforting sound when, finally,
you hear it and you know the growing sound
isn’t in the field
but in your fragile frailty,
in you…

Then fear comes over you:
you will be torn inside, again, until it hurts
and this may be the time
when growing leaves behind
the one you think you are,
harvesting the one you were made to be…

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

You don’t have to listen so closely
to hear the wind shuffle its way
through fields of wheat
so you have to look very carefully
to see it’s not the wind after all, but simply
wheat brushing against wheat,
wheat supporting wheat,
wheat enjoying wheat,
wheat embracing wheat.

The rustling becomes a symphony
of meeting, knowing, touching, growing:
wheat reaching out to wheat
not with fear, not with flushed face,
but only with the need to touch
and the sound of reaching
is strong, enveloping, alive!

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

Grinding grains of wheat: harsh,
breaking, crushing sounds,
a not soft noise – hard.
And now you don’t want to hear
wheat being crushed:
it just doesn’t look like wheat anymore
and maybe the explosion in you
wasn’t a matter of life but…

water is cool
and now it is all around you:
bubbling and swirling
in flour ground of wheat
and now you’re not surprised to know
you’re listening to blood filling your veins,
flowing all through you: life.

And just before the fire consumed us, too,
we found bread: one beautiful brown loaf
of wheat, wind, water
all rising to life in bread.

Then came One
who broke himself like a loaf
and we heard
in the cracking and tearing of the crust
the Word of life grown, ground and given
for those who share
in the breaking of the bread.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

P.S. (after communion) – just one more image about this feast, from a science fiction book called Children of the Mind:

How suddenly we find the flesh of God within us after all -
when we thought that we were only made of dust…

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father of bride 2It is “wedding season” for us priestly types, and perhaps, for many of you, as sons, daughters, neighbors and friend’s children are making the trip to the altar. In my nearly 30 year of witnessing them, I have become convinced that weddings have an ability to give us an experience of and glimpse into the nature of God. In particular, there are usually three moments that stand out for me, and perhaps stand out for you, at every wedding I have been a part of. Interestingly enough, the correlate to the Trinitarian greeting that we use from St. Paul so often at the beginning of each mass.

The first moment: I always enjoy looking at the groom’s face while everyone else is fixed upon the bride walking down the aisle. There is this curious mixture of desire, of amazement, of joy and wonder at how beautiful his beloved looks on that day. And though I can’t know what is in their heads, I can’t help but wonder if and hope that, at some moment during that walk, they think: “What did I ever do to deserve this grace?” What did I ever do to have someone give their love and their life to me? What did I ever do to be able to find my life precisely as I give it away to them in turn? And in that moment, I think, they know “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace equals divine favor; it is that unmerited gift, that undeserved but freely given relationship that Jesus makes possible for us with God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is made visible in the eyes of a groom watching his bride walk down the aisle, in the eyes of the bride as she kisses her father ‘goodbye’ and takes her grooms arms and turns and faces the altar.

The second moment – I’ve just alluded to: It is that moment when the father gives away the bride. It is a long walk, I think, for the dad down that aisle, and perhaps too short of one at the same time. Pride, joy, a tinge of sorrow, a lot of letting go – all of those emotions – are nestled in the bend of his elbow where his daughter’s hand rests. And as often as not, you see a father’s hand resting over his daughters – in that last bit of ‘protection’, that last walk of letting go. And you know in the tears they try to hide, a heart that bursts in love in the giving away. It’s the day they’ve always wanted for their daughter, but it is bittersweet– for they know not what the future will hold for their beloved. There is a huge surrendering there, a huge act of trust and letting go. “The Love of God” becomes so visible, so real in that timeless moment. If you take a picture of that moment, you see the echo of what St. John spoke of so eloquently: For God so loved the world, that he gave his ONLY son, so that all who believe in him might have eternal life. In every giving away in love, every surrender made to a bigger story, every sacrifice made for others, you and I touch the love of God.

Finally, I’m pretty convinced that couples don’t really realize that ‘it’ has happened – that they are really married – until just before the end of the ceremony. They’ve said the vows, exchanged the rings, had the nuptial blessing prayed over them, received the Lord in the Eucharist, visited Mary, and heard the final blessing. And then there is that small moment, almost invisible, where the couple is turned toward each other, and introduced formally for the first time. And whether it is a quick kiss, a kind of shrug of their arms enfolded in each other, or a clasping of the hands together – their bodies cement that moment when they realize: “It is us now.” The two of us traveling together, down whatever paths and whatever roads God has in store for us. There’s a quiet confidence in that moment, a thrill of the journey ahead, and a kind of ‘we can do this TOGETHER’ realization that comes upon them. It is the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” moment. That ‘fellowship’ is the Spirit’s gift to them/us. It is the love of the Father poured into the Son and the Son given back to the Father that creates the home called Spirit. It is that fellowship of the Spirit that helps them create a home together.

Weddings can reveal to us a lot about the Trinitarian nature of God. But they are not the only places where God is revealed. This week pay attention to those moments when you know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” In each of those moments- breathe in that life that God is sharing with you, and breathe out your response of gratitude and love.

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spiritThe Lord be with you. (Assembly responds: “And with your spirit.”) Thanks. But what does that mean? We’re about 2 ½ years into this “new” Mass language, and I still not totally comfortable with that response. The Lord is with my spirit but not the rest of me? The phrase, “and with your spirit,” still sounds clunky to me and awkward, but this week it kind of got me thinking: What is that ‘spirit’ the response speaks of. On one level, it is addressed to me, the presider, but on another level, it is address to all of us assembled to pray. What is the spirit, the energy, that I give out? What is that invisible but oh so real energy that emanates from us all? What is your spirit?

You know I heard a saying once that said, each time we meet someone we can either add life to them or take it away; we can either add life or take it away. I like that. It’s a statement about our spirit, what we put out into the world—a spirit that either adds life, healing, joy and peace, or a spirit that sucks the life and joy out of the world because of its negativity and anger. When we talk about Jesus’ spirit in this life, it was always bringing about healing and joy and community. People just couldn’t wait to be around him, to touch him, to hang out with him. People wanted to talk to him, to share their lives. Jesus had a healing, peaceful, joyful spirit.

When Jesus came to the disciples in today’s gospel, they were gathered in a spirit of fear, but he gave them some of his spirit and they were open enough to receive it. They received a spirit of peace and of forgiveness.

Today we celebrate exactly that continued gift of Jesus’ spirit to the Church and to all of his followers. Pentecost celebrates that we have be entrusted with Jesus’ own spirit—that same spirit that walked around this earth emanating from Jesus, calling people to him, healing them, offering compassion and forgiveness. The second reading today says that it will come out from each of us differently, Jesus’ spirit mixing with our own gifts and history to form a unique mission and spirit that is just ours. As Paul says, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” It is not mine to hoard or cling to, but to share, to give away as I have been given to. Just like in the first Pentecost, that spirit gathers people, comforts them, makes them feel like they belong even though they are Parthians, Medes, Elamites, or residents of Northwoods, Uplands Park, Pasadina Hills, or Bel Ridge. Jesus’ spirit that he gives us at our baptism and again this day communicates to others that they are loved and valued and precious.

We have been given this incredible spirit, the spirit of the Lord. It has been entrusted to the Church, to you and to me. I think it’s the great challenge of Pentecost, to realize the great spirit that we have been given and to ask ourselves if that spirit is coming through from our words and actions or if it is another spirit, perhaps a spirit of fear or anger, a spirit of greed or judgment that comes forth from us.

Indeed, when we ask that the Lord be with your spirit we are asking no less than for you to give out the energy that Jesus gave out. We are challenging each other to put out that same spirit of forgiveness and peace into the world that Jesus did. Is there a more basic prayer in all of the Mass than that: that the spirit of the Lord be in your spirit and in mine? What is your spirit? And does it match the spirit of Jesus that we have been given?

The Lord be with you. (The Assembly responds:), “And with your spirit.” Yes, indeed. And with YOUR spirit as well.

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difference“Men and women of St. Ann parish, why are you standing there looking into the sky?” Is that not a corrective we all need sometimes. Jesus ascended to the heaven, and we’ve been looking at the sky ever since. I understand that temptation.
• Local politics and fire boards are messy – we’ve known that here.
• If smarter minds than I don’t know what to do about the Missouri school transfer law mess, than what hope have I?”
• Was the tax break that was approved in the MO legislature, vetoed and then over ridden, followed by all the tax exemptions which subsequently followed, – a boon for everyone, or just a way to switch money from the poor to the rich without a fight?

Can’t we just sit around praying, looking piously to Jesus, awaiting his return at the end of days, and do that in peace? That would be so much easier. “People of Galilee, why are you STILL looking to the sky? Don’t you know there is work to be done? Don’t you know that if you continue only to look to the heavens, you will have missed the primary point and the momentum of God in Jesus?

A mistake we make as Christians is to move Jesus out of the neighborhood. Relegate Him, not just to heaven, but to one hour (this hour) and to one place (this church). There’s Jesus, going up to heaven, and we’ll just be killing time down here until we can move out to the suburbs as well.

For the truth is that we don’t really like or trust the incarnation all that much. It puts everything too close to home. We have to take ourselves, our bodies, and this earth, and what is going on in the world more seriously than we would like to. It is so much easier to have God far away out there somewhere, Jesus risen up, ascended to the heavens. But I wonder if the Mystery of the Ascension is less about Jesus going up, and more about Jesus going in… – to our hearts, our souls, our lives and our worlds. It is about discovering heaven under our noses: God right here and now.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it so well: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Jesus says it even more simply: Know that I am with you always…

Truth is – we will never find God in heaven… if we’ve not learned to find God here. That is the scriptural message of today’s readings – to turn our attention away from our future destiny (point forward) back to the here and now (point HERE). The Ascension invites us to know that we cannot enter heaven until heaven enters us.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations we are told. It is so tempting to spend our lives looking up to heaven waiting for Jesus to do something rather than doing something ourselves right here in order to make Jesus’ presence or forgiveness or compassion more obvious. And yet, that is exactly where the Scriptures point us—to this world and not waiting for the next.

So, some questions:
• Where in my life right now do I need to stop waiting upon the future and instead start embracing the present?
• How much time do I spend wishing I was somewhere else?
• What are those places and people that I am called to love right now as opposed to fantasizing about how they should be different or who else might be easier to love?

People of St. Ann, are you still looking up to heaven? It’s well past time to change that. GO, therefore and make a difference. GO, because you have been sent. Go!

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willnotleaveyou“On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.”

So ends arguably the greatest of all American novels: Moby-Dick. Perhaps if you are a fan of old films, you remember the 1956 film version with the stirring performance by Gregory Peck of the increasingly insane Captain Ahab. But, from its famous first sentence, “Call me Ishmael,” in which Mehlville references the most famous of all biblical orphans, to its last line we just heard where the theme is made explicit, this book is about our sense of being alone in the world. Despite all of the imagery of whales and ships and the sea, Mehlville wrote Moby-Dick to address this un-rootedness, this deep aloneness we feel in the world. This feeling of being an orphan.

We’ve probably all known that feeling at some point:
• Perhaps a number of us can still remember – as young children – our panic at losing sight of mom or dad in the department store…
• Then, how great the pain when they actually do leave us through death…
• Or perhaps we had parents who were never there for us…
• Or maybe it’s the up-rootedness of our mobile society… friends leave… we move… mom and dad no longer live in the same house or even the same city…
• We’re divorced or widowed and it seems like everyone goes on without us, and we just don’t fit in…
Have you ever known this painful part of the human condition, this unease about our lives, this lingering sense of being alone? If you have, then hear this commitment from Jesus in today’s gospel: “I will not leave you orphans.

I will not leave you orphans. That’s the promise. You are not alone in this. I am with you. When you are scared or hurt or confused, when you feel abandoned or forgotten or a failure, I am here. I am with you. You are not alone.

And doesn’t that phrase, “I will not leave you orphans,” encapsulate in a few words the whole ministry of Jesus? Jesus sought out all of those groups who might feel forgotten and abandoned: the lame, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outcasts. Jesus looks precisely and especially for those who might feel most orphaned in this world and reaches out to them to say, “God is with you. You are not alone.

I suggest that this is what God is always doing… around us, in us and through us. It is important that we see it… and that we name it.

For example, have you ever walked into a gathering where you didn’t know anyone, and felt that scared feeling in your stomach? On Saturday night I was invited to a gathering where I only knew the host couple. As I walked through the fence into the backyard, looking for a place to ‘land’, one couple broke the ice for me, by asking if the wine I held in my hands as a gift was white and chilled and opened? And if not, come in anyway. In that kindness and invitation, I heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Perhaps you had a tense family situation, and you thought everyone was mad at you, and someone said, “I’m sorry, or I forgive you, or we’re glad you’re here.” In that you heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

No friend or spouse can always be there or understand you, but if you ever had a friend who listened to your fears, or understood for a moment what it was like to be you, or a spouse who stood by your side at a time of great sorrow, or who held your hand at the hospital bedside and who you knew loved you, in that you heard Jesus say, “I will not leave you orphaned.”

Today, God speaks those words straight and directly to you and to me. “I will not leave you orphans.” I will come to you and live in you. Today, no matter what you are feeling or what you have lost or how difficult are the choices you have had to make lately, Jesus himself says, “You are not alone in this, I’m here. I haven’t left you and will never leave you.”

Moby-Dick has been called by some the greatest of the American novels precisely because it deals with issues of abandonment and aloneness that are so real for so many of us. And yet, it is worth noting that even in the end of Moby-Dick, as we just heard, Ishmael, the quintessential orphan, is not left alone. The Rachel, another ship actually looking for someone else, picks him up from his isolation and brings him home. And we hear again the promise of God… “Love will come. I will not leave you orphaned.”

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sign“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” When choosing scripture passages for the funeral of a loved one, a number of people choose today’s Gospel because of that statement in it. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” There seems to be comfort in hearing Jesus say these words.

But how do we picture those “dwelling places”? How would you describe what Jesus proclaims today? If, for example, you were trying to advertise heavenly lodgings as a realtor might, what would you say?
• Well, I suppose there is the obvious: “The view is out of this world.” (Wait, it gets worse.)
• “Heavenly vistas! No, Really, it is heavenly…”
• It’s a ‘Must-see to believe’ and “must believe to see” dwelling.
• And the great selling point: “Down payment already paid by generous benefactor.”
Hell’s realtors, I suppose, would have a tougher sell:
• Shady history blocking you from your dream home – no problem here!
• Save on utilities – no furnace required.

Instead of those kinds of pitches, we simply hear Jesus saying: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” But what is this dwelling place Jesus speaks of? Some have imagined magnificent mansions in the sky, rooms outfitted with every amenity, streets paved with gold. But what we need to understand is that the “Place” Jesus has prepared for us is simply: “relationship.”

Jesus is speaking of relationship; of bringing us into ever deepening relationship with his Father-God. He wants us to enjoy the life-giving, everlasting relationship that he already experiences with the Father.
Certainly Jesus does not live in a gleaming mansion in the sky, rather in a deep, intimate, loving and abiding relationship with God his Father. He says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And that is where Jesus wants us to be as well.

A mansion in the sky might be nice to picture, but what makes a mansion, a hovel, or any residence a home is not its size or magnificence. It is the loving relationships that exist within its walls. Jesus has prepared for us the deepest connection with God, with one another, and with all living things. Jesus is not interested in finding us a place on a gold paved street, but a place in the heart of God.

And here is the kicker. He wants us to know that connection NOW – not once we have kicked the proverbial bucket. That’s why we’ve got to learn relationship now: How to have space in our hearts for one another that we might have space in our hearts for the other. Jesus is all about relationship. Nothing else. Now is the time for us to get to know him.

There is a short poem called, “Vigil” by Jane Tyson Clement which speaks to this knowing, this relationship:
If Jesus simply came walking out of the woods this morning, how would I know him?
Would I know him by his step?
Would I know him by my own beating heart?
Would I know him by his eyes?
Would I feel on my shoulder the burden that Jesus carries?
Would I rise and stand still till Jesus drew near?
Would I cover my eyes in shame?
Or would I simply forget everything except that God is here.

Or would I simply forget everything except that God is here?

That is the ‘listing’ that Jesus is truly trying to make this day – an invitation, not to streets paved in gold, but to live in that communion of life and love we already foreshadow here at the altar. And, if like Thomas, you feel like don’t know the way, then spend some time, as did Jane Clement did – by the edge of the proverbial woods – waiting, opening yourself – so that you forget everything except that God is here…

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voiceMom was never one to give long speeches. Or even short ones for that matter. Just a glance and you knew you were in for it. Or just a look and you know you had done well. You knew without too many words, what was expected of you. And you knew, even when mom (and dad) said “no” to movies that the rest of my classmates were seeing, she was not being spiteful, but trying to shape us and prepare us for the kind of living that honors God. I am thankful that I grew up trusting that mom wanted LIFE for us kids, that she wanted us to grow up believing that God wanted no less for us. But it wasn’t until dad was dying in the hospital with a stroke that I realized the depth of mom’s desire about this.

I admit, it was a strange thing to my eyes. Someone had given mom a Divine Mercy prayer card that very week that dad had his stroke. (now keep in mind, this was 9 years before it became an official, recognized Sunday in the Liturgical year – so the devotion itself was not a well known prayer form) And there at the hospital, mom remembered that little prayer card, and there she was, praying this prayer I’d never heard of, over and over and over for my dad, asking God to take him home, to forgive his sins, to let him be granted the gift of the beatific vision. I remember thinking – I wish she would shut up. And I remember thinking, if I were dad, I would be finding a way to come out of my coma to say the same thing: “Mary, would you shut up – I got the message.” But what I came to recognize looking back over that experience is the passion that has always driven my mom – to help bring her husband and her children home to God in heaven. She wanted LIFE and LIFE most abundantly for us – and for her, that meant the life of heaven. So, whatever it took to get us there, that is what she would choose.

That is what the Good Shepherd tells us today in the gospel. That we will recognize the voice of the shepherd in this truth – that God wants only life and life more abundantly for us. That is our Savior’s motivation for us. Everything that is less than our truest and best self, everything that sells our souls cheaply, everything that does not pass the ‘life to the full’ test – that is the work of thieves and robbers; that is the work of the evil one.” Anyone else who comes with a different agenda is not to be trusted. Jesus, the good shepherd is all about ABUNDANT LIFE.

Maybe that comes easier to mothers than it comes to fathers. Or to women then it does to men, I don’t know. I who sometimes make the journey so complicated, to about achievement and performance and the doing of things – need to step back from my activities and let myself be led by that one desire of the Good Shepherd – life and life more abundantly.

So the question becomes in each of those countless decisions we make in a day: Does this action, does this choice, does this path I am considering – does it open me up to the kind of life that God has in store for me? And you’ll know it, not because you are free to do anything your mind can conceive of – (we call that hedonism) – but because you are free to do and seek only the loving thing. Sometimes that indeed is a limiting of my options. I don’t go to certain movies. I don’t hang out at certain drinking establishments. I don’t engage in shady business practices. But most often, it is a sharpening of my heart and will – I do choose to spend time with the difficult in-law. I do choose to bake that casserole for the homeless. I do choose to write to a person on death row. All those behaviors that model themselves after the gatekeeper – that are about a love that sacrifices and gives itself so that others might know life – that is the invitation.

This is why we need to return again and again to this altar, to this place, so that we can put aside all the competing voices in our busy world and listen for the voice of the shepherd. This is why mom and dad dragged us sometimes reluctant kids to church every Sunday, whether our hearts were in it or not. This is why mom said that Divine Mercy Prayer again and again as she knelt by my dying father’s bedside. For it is only around this table that we will see rightly. It is only here that we will truly hear the voice of the Shepherd, who has one desire for us – that we might have LIFE and have it more abundantly. May we live that life abundantly this day.

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stereogramIt was the strangest beginning to a party I had ever experienced. I rang the apartment doorbell and was welcomed by the host. When I walked in, there were about 15 people in the small living room, all staring at a 2 x 3 print on the wall of seemingly unintelligible small dots and shapes in varying shades of blue, in rapt and nearly utter silence. They scarcely noticed me, so intense was their concentration. You would see people adjusting their footing, then telescoping out to capture a wider perspective, then telescoping back in to grasp something in the finer details. Eventually, you would hear someone say, “I see it!” And then they would whisper to the owner of the print, what they saw in that stereographic image, who would either affirm it or say, no, keep looking. Some people never saw it, and would give up in frustration. Those who did would try to help the ones who couldn’t come to see it. SO, the first 45 minutes of the party, I was one of those people, literally staring at the wall, trying to be patient enough to adjust my eyes until the pattern emerged. Strange party. Do you remember those pictures? They are called stereograms. The ‘trick’ was in the focusing of the eyes – you had to see kind of beyond or ‘into’ the picture for it to be revealed.

In this Sunday’s famous, “Road to Emmaus” Easter passage, it was as if the two disciples, who were walking and talking to one another, were contemplating one of those unintelligible stereographic prints. In their discussion, they were squinting, trying to make a coherent picture, not out of a piece of artwork hanging on a wall, but out of the jumbled, seemingly incoherent facts of the previous week of their lives. They had all the data before them – the news of the empty tomb, the story of a vision of angels, the witness of the women and of Peter and the beloved disciple – but they couldn’t see ‘beyond the events’ or ‘into’ the events enough for the picture to become clear.

Enter the stranger, a disguised Jesus, to help them come to see the pattern hidden in plain sight. “Beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them” what they could not see. Luke tells us “Their eyes were opened” and the seemingly disparate events of the past week fell into a meaningful pattern that would give direction and meaning to the rest of their lives.

It seems to me that life is loaded with “Road to Emmaus” moments. Events occur in each of our lives that are pregnant with meaning, but we can’t quite bring them into the focus needed to perceive them. There is a sense that there is an intelligible pattern there, something important for our lives, but somehow, like a stereographic image, we have yet to discern it. And like the disciples in this week’s Gospel narrative, we have to be willing to stand before those experiences, so as to let the meaning ‘reveal’ itself to us.

But here is a ‘truth’ that I learned, both at that party and in through the gospel narrative about Emmaus Moments. You had to ‘stay with’ the print, to engage it, to study it, to be with it, for the picture to become clear. So, too, the disciples – it was their invitation to our hidden Lord: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening” that allowed the time for them to come to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

A lot of people did the Lent 4.5 small groups, or at least read the bulletin inserts. Is that ‘picture’ clear yet for you, what God is asking you to do or be or become in response to that? Wedding season is upon us – perhaps it is you or a son or daughter, niece or nephew being married. What does that event mean in the unfolding of your life? Perhaps you are coming up on the year anniversary of a death of a spouse or loved one, a significant illness of a friend – how is Jesus walking with YOU and calling you to newness and wholeness of life? Perhaps you are graduating in a few weeks – what has the pattern of college life taught YOU about the life of faith God calls you to?

For here is perhaps the deepest truth about Emmaus moments: “God isn’t finished revealing himself yet.” For you and me, each day is a journey on the Road to Emmaus. Christ is present to us right now disguised in the seemingly humble events of our God-drenched lives. Do you trust there is a meaning there, a truth there, a direction there that lies just beyond the focus of your eyes? Will you spend the time needed looking for the pattern God is trying to reveal to you?

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