God Breaks the Silence

When I was teaching in Knoxville, we had a diocesan in-service for teachers reflecting on the three times that God breaks the silence in the New Testament. One of those times is at the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated yesterday. Hearing this Gospel reading reminded me of that day so many years ago. 

During his presentation, the retreat master, Archabbot Lambert Reilly, OSB (who served as the leader of St. Meinrad Seminary from 1994-2004) said that God broke the silence in the New Testament three times. But he arrived late for his presentation and never got to the third occasion in Scripture where the voice of God is heard. Intrigued, I called the seminary, tracked down the Archabbot, and asked him to tell me about the third time. It was the start of a long friendship and I still have my notes from that conversation. For years, I have used yesterday’s readings as the jumping off point for a quiz I gave students – challenging them to find the three times in Scripture when God breaks the silence.

I will spare you the work.

The first, as I mentioned, is the baptism of our Lord (Matthew 3:13-17) in which not only the Trinity is revealed but also Jesus begins his public ministry to proclaim and make present the reign of God on earth. The Father’s voice in this passage speaks in terms that reflect Is 42:1, Ps 2:7 and Gn 22:2. This God-in-the-flesh is giving us first hand an example of submission to the saving activity of God. “To fulfill all righteousness” is to submit to the plan of God for the salvation of the human race. This involves Jesus’ identification with sinners; hence the propriety of his accepting John’s baptism.

The second time God breaks the silence comes at the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8, Lk 9:28-36, Mt 17:1-8) which confirms that Jesus is the Son of God (Mt 17:5) and points to fulfillment of the prediction that he will come “in his Father’s glory” (Mt. 16:27) at the end of the age. The voice that speaks repeats the baptismal proclamation about Jesus, with the addition of the command “listen to him.” The latter is a reference to Dt 18:15 in which the Israelites are commanded to “listen to” the prophets like Moses whom God will raise up for them. The command to “listen to” Jesus is general, but we know that just as Jesus shined white as light in this event, it is only by the light of his resurrection can we truly come to understand the meaning of his life and mission. His own instruction to the apostles to not reveal the details of this extraordinary event to anyone indicates that Jesus knows that until the resurrection, no testimony of this vision will lead people to faith.

The elusive third time that God breaks the silence is in John 12:20-36 as Jesus discusses his own death. He says that “whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26). He continues and after admitting that he is troubled about the future and what he knows it holds for him, asks “what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27). In other words, Jesus is saying that even though he is afraid, he also knows that it was for this purpose – to die for each of us – that he was born. In response to his request for his Father to glorify his name, a voice speaks: “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again” (28). The crowds who hear the voice say it was thunder, others say it was an angel. Jesus says the voice is heard so that we may believe that he himself is the light by which we all must live so as to become children of the light (36). We know that Jesus will have – after his suffering – all that he had before and that those who follow him will have what he has promised, namely, eternal life with the Father in heaven.

God becomes man so that we might follow Jesus’ example in our love for each other. Jesus dined with sinners and made the lame walk. He was crucified for our sakes and is made whole again through his resurrection. Those who follow will rise above all darkness that comes from doubt and sin and live only in the light. A light that is God. 

It is easy to forget the God still breaks the silence. We struggle to find both God’s voice and the silence. This week, take some time in the stillness of the morning or just before the lights go out to sit in the silence and listen for the voice of God.

May God be pleased with the work of our lives.

My Friend Steve

I have a friend named Steve. He’s a Catholic husband, father, grandfather, and singer-songwriter. My guess is that is the exact order he would put that list in, too. We’ve been friends for two and half decades and I first got to know him when I was in parish youth ministry in Knoxville and invited Steve to join us for our diocesan anniversary Mass. Though we are separated in age by only a few years, his children are older than mine and he’s always been the kind of father and the kind of Catholic I struggle to be. I imagine we all have people in our lives that inspire us and challenge us like Steve challenges me.

He’s been on my mind the last few days. I could pick up the phone and text, challenge him to a game of Words with Friends, or call him, but Steve has a gift for putting words to music and I wanted you to know. To be honest, I don’t listen to his music as often as I used to. My commute, since we moved, has gone from an hour every morning to about 10 minutes. I barely have enough time for the Rosary, catching up on the news on the radio, or the podcasts I used to enjoy. I love getting to work early and getting home in a hurry, but I miss some of the traditions that were once part of my morning. 

On the way out of the house yesterday, I grabbed Steve’s latest CD, High Above Our Way, for the road trip we planned to take after Church. Child number three needed shelves for his room so a trip up 95 to Ikea was on our list. I had heard some of Steve’s new music at a conference in Tampa back in December and wanted to give the whole CD a try. 

There is one song in particular that I could listen to again and again. It’s called More Beautiful and while the whole song is great, I really like the second verse and the chorus.

There is a longing we can’t deny
that God alone can satisfy
peace that none in this world can give
every good thing comes from you
you’re the source,
you’re the summit we’re reaching to. 

May we find you more beautiful,
more glorious,
more alive, and this life, more victorious,
to be more free, and all we can be,
more than yesterday.

You can listen to a sample of the song here. You can also purchase the whole album if you want or download it from iTunes. 

This year, I have resolved to make a concerted effort to tell the people who make my life better how important they are to me. Steve’s music and stories have become a mainstay of Catholic parishes and ministry to young people across the globe. But to me, he will always be the guy who wrote a song for my son’s sixth birthday, huddled with the kids on the steps of the house when we set the fire alarm off at an ungodly hour, and texted me every few weeks when dad died. He is a friend I treasure.

May his music move you as much his presence in my life moves me.

A Thought For the New Year

Death and Life are in the Power of the Tongue
I’m sorry…I didn’t mean it
I take it back
Strike it from the record

What is as irreversible as murder, violates its victims more than theft, is as deadly as an epidemic? And is a lot closer to you than you want to think?

Gossip, slander, and thoughtless speech. Gossip is a million-dollar industry in our country today. We tend to think of it as a sport, harmless and fun. After all, it’s only words. We even have shows devoted to it.

As Christians, we are called to see it differently. Which is worse, we must ask, to steal from someone or to speak ill of someone? To defraud a person or to humiliate him? Answer: Property can be restored, but the damage done to another can never be undone. In fact, our Jewish ancestors compared slander and humiliation with murder: the destruction is irreparable and enduring.

You can’t take it back. What we say about each other is terribly powerful: words have a long, long half-life, and they can destroy in unseen, unhealable ways.

Our words are a footprint we leave for the world. What will they reveal about the way we treat our children, our parents, our friends, students, co-workers, employees? How we treat ourselves?

It’s a new year. Perhaps none of us will find a cure for cancer, or feed the world’s hungry, or bring about world peace. But nearly every day we find ourselves with someone’s reputation or sense of worth in our hands.

We can improve our world in a powerful, pervasive way; we can act as though our words had the power of life and death.

They do.


About this reflection

When I was a child, there was an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal with the headline and text above, though I have edited some of the text. The ad was in celebration of the Jewish New Year, I believe. My mother, wise as she was, cut it out and posted it on the refrigerator. If you said or did something that warranted further reflection, you got to stand in front of the full page of newsprint. In time, I had it memorized. When her children moved out of the house, my mother made sure we each got a copy. Mine hangs on the refrigerator and I can still say it by heart. We learn slowly as children…and sometimes more slowly as adults.

Happy New Year Mom. Happy New Year One and All.

It’s time once again for the story to be told

The readings this week are all over the place, especially our Gospel readings. We hear about the genealogy of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, the prediction and conception of John the Baptist, then back to the Annunciation and final, on Friday, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Yes, the readings are all over the place.

Still, they are a good reminder about what we will gather next week to celebrate – God in the flesh. The miracle of the incarnation. Not unlike all of us, scattering from store to store, room to room, shopping and wrapping, dusting and decorating, this time of year is filled with a story here, a story there, a time-honored tradition of where the tree goes and who puts the star on top, and then a pause to reflect on why we do what we do.

The miracle, the wonder, the amazing bits and pieces of the story remain. There is great beauty in the truth of the story. God skips nothing: not the frantic eruption of birth or the numbness of death – through Jesus, God enters fully into humanity, even as He invites us to share in His divinity.

When I was a child, we would go as a family to the Knoxville Nativity Pageant. Every year. And every year, the narration was the same, the actors were the same, the parts were the same, the choir sang pretty much the same songs every year. And yet it was powerful and inspiring every single year. There was a line at the beginning and the end that I remember well. I can still hear the man’s voice when I close my eyes and think of those hard, wooden chairs and the smell of that parking garage.

“It is time, once again, for the story to be told. A story of peace. Of goodness. Of God as Man. It must be told. And it’s greatest beauty is its truth.”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. May we be prepared to greet you.

Carrying Christ

This week, we have the optional reading from Luke:

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1:39-47)

I have been blessed to visit the countryside where the journey took place. I have seen the hillside that leads to Elizabeth’s home. I have visited the town well where historians believe that Mary would have visited first to inquire as to where her cousin lives and if she were home. It is topography you and I would not dare to trek alone or on foot – even today. So to reflect on that great reading, and on Mary’s journey that followed, let us reflect on the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta.

In the mystery of the Annunciation and the Visitation, Mary is the very model of the life we should lead. First of all, she welcomed Jesus in her existence; then, she shared what she had received. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus the Word becomes flesh in our life – the gift of God who is at one and the same time beautiful, kind, unique. Thus, the first Eucharist was such: Mary’s offering of her Son in her, in whom he had set up the first altar. Mary, the only one who could affirm with absolute confidence, “this is my body”, from that first moment offered her own body, her strength, all her being, to form the Body of Christ.

This week, may we emulate Mary and carry Christ to the world.

-pjd

 

 

What Rules You?

Last Sunday (not yesterday), we celebrated Christ the King. It is one of those great feasts that gets lost on the calendar. As much as we would like to pay attention to it, the world around us has moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas and wants desperately for us to do the same. Let’s face it, shortly after the Labor Day sales are over, people are talking about Black Friday and in one store, I actually saw lit Christmas trees before I saw Halloween candy. But I digress…

The feast of Christ the King always reminds me of a homily I heard years ago. “What rules you?” the priest asked. My mind wondered then, as it does every year on that feast day, and I begin to think back over recent days. There is so much going on at work. At home, too. This week will see us juggling the science fair, the biennial adult ministry conference that Maureen coordinates with her team and at which the bishop and I will present, a new babysitter, projects, homework, and getting dinner on the table.

The day before Christ the King, we cleaned the house. From top to bottom, basement to bathrooms, wood floors to the grass outside, we cleaned. For the most part, the children were willing participants. Sure, the promise of pizza for dinner and getting to stay up late to cheer the Irish to victory helped, but so did the “divide and conquer” methodology we employed to get small children to accomplish small tasks and then move on to another job.

As I thought back over the day, it occurred to me that what ruled us was a checklist: the list of chores was created by us, but we were controlled by it. Like so many days and nights, we fly from lists at home to tasks at work and from commitments with family to promises made to friends. We let the work around us consume us, change us, and push us into an amnesic state where the “why” we do what we do gets lost.

We clean because it is important to take care of the place where we live. We straighten and dust and vacuum to be healthy in mind and soul so, later on when the pizza is consumed, and the Irish are up by six, we can sit on the sofa and hold our children as they fall asleep. We go to work, I hope, because we love what we do and, yes, because it pays tuition and the mortgage and the food bill. We keep track of what we do, perhaps, for a sense of accomplishment and to know when our work is complete.

Still, it is nice to be reminded once in a while and just to pause and ask ourselves that tough, embarrassing question: What rules you? From where is your motivation derived? Why do you serve in the way you do at the place you do and with the people you do?

Maybe, just maybe, answering the questions now will make for a more clear-headed Advent and enjoyable Christmas season, surrounded by family and friends.

Of course, by then, the house will be a mess…

~pjd

Ten Seconds

For family movie night, we chose a documentary. It doesn’t happen often and usually includes whining from at least one of the children. By the end, however, we are all hooked and wish we had bought it instead of renting it. That was, perhaps, never more true than this week’s movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

It is hard not to be nostalgic these days for Fred Roger’s simple message: be kind. Back in 1968, Mr. Rogers, through one of his alter egos, King Friday, talked about how people do not like change and so the king decides to build a wall. He welcomes an African American to share his swimming pool and dares to dry the man’s feet as the documentary’s director juxtaposes the scene with footage of a hotel manager dumping chemicals into a swimming pool to drive the non-whites out of the water. Mr. Rogers spoke of peace and love and hope and other messages I want my children to learn.

There was one scene that moved me to tears more than others. Receiving an award, Mr. Rogers makes a request of those around him. The filmmaker makes the same request at the end of the film.

In Mr. Rogers words:

“Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have loved you into who you are. Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. I’ll watch the time.”

Then, looking at his watch, the audience goes silent. The camera pans. People cry. Mascara runs. Eyes close. People look up. People look down. Time passes.

The same is true for the documentary, as the camera pans from person to person featured in the movie: Mr. Rogers’ wife, his sons, his coworkers, his friends, celebrities he befriended. While that happened on screen, the same thing was happening in our basement. On a weekend when we celebrated giving thanks, when we gathered with family and dined together, we wrapped up the weekend by giving thanks for those who influenced us, challenged us, improved us, and loved us.

This week, take ten seconds. Listen to Mr. Rogers and take the time to close your eyes and remember the people who always wanted the best for you.

Ready?

One Mississippi….

 

 

Lord, I Want to See

“Then Jesus stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
‘What do you want me to do for you?’
He replied, ‘Lord, please let me see.'”

In this morning’s Gospel reading, the author of Luke shares this powerful story of healing and puts the burden of our requests on the lips of one man (18:35-43).

“Lord, please help us see.”

This week, let us pray that we see civility return to our public discourse.

Let us pray that we see those for whom we are thankful gathered safely around our table.

Let us pray that we can see peacemakers in our families, our parishes, and our communities.

Let us pray that we can see safety in our schools and in our churches and synagogues.

Let us pray that we can see those in need around us and be moved to share what we have.

Let us pray that we can see those who need a lift up, a kind word, or an encouraging note – and be inspired to act.

Let us pray that we see a way that we can help support those who sacrifice so much for the freedoms we enjoy.

Let us pray that we can see fires quenched, homes rebuilt, lives spared, and first responders home with their families.

Let us pray that we can see the lines on the road, the signs at the corners, the lights that are red, and the cars all around us so as to arrive safely to our destinations.

Let us pray that we can see the face of Christ in those who annoy us, challenge us, and confuse us.

Let us pray, too, that we can see the face of Christ in the mirror, shedding self-doubt and remembering that we are all children of God.

Lord, help us see the truth, not as we wish it were, but as it is.

Lord, please help us see…

With a grateful heart.

 

Healed

As coldness begins to cover the northeast, and the first cold of the season makes its way through the family, I am reaching back into the archives today. Partly because it is a powerful story of healing and partly because, on this day off from work, all I want to do is crawl back into bed.

From 2016 –

The author of Luke’s Gospel account has Jesus’ healing ten lepers in this week’s reading. It’s a story that always causes such consternation. Ten were healed but only one returned to say “thank you.”

It is good to give thanks.

But to concentrate on the one who returned is to miss the point. Maybe the other nine had good reasons.

Maybe one was a mother who had been kept away from her children for so long by this disease that turns you into an outcast. She was healed and she rushed right home and returned to her family.

Maybe one didn’t believe he had been cured because he didn’t do anything to deserve it. He couldn’t face unconditional love – healing without a price – so he couldn’t see he was healed and just went back to the colony.

Another was really, really excited about being free from the ravages of his illness and in his excitement, he just forgot.

Maybe another was alone, having already lost his family and now the only family he knew – the other lepers – were gone too. He was cured but now he was alone. He wasn’t grateful, he was ticked.

I could go on but you get the point.

Ten were healed and only one said: “thank you.”

To concentrate on the one is to miss the point. Then again, I sometimes think we’ve institutionalized missing the point.

Ten were healed.

Ten were healed.

Ten cried out for mercy. Ten longed to be near Jesus so they just shouted as loud as they could. And Jesus, never one to leave someone wanting, responded simply, “Go, show yourselves to the priest” (the priest being the only one who could verify that they had, in fact, be healed).

They asked for Jesus’ mercy and received so much more.

Ten were healed. One said thank you.

It is good to say thank you.

But something tells me it is better to be healed.

Reality Check

Last week I mentioned the admonition to “love your neighbor.” This Sunday, we heard the same from Mark’s account of the Good News. It was ironic that my family heard the Gospel proclaimed in our old parish in Delaware, especially with one of our old neighbors sitting behind us.

We love those neighbors. Our children grew up together and it was nice to see them again and reconnect. But my thoughts during the Gospel were not on the people behind us.

When we first moved into our home back in 2005, we met our next door neighbors. On one side was a state trooper, his wife the teacher, and their two children. Before we moved, we had been to their parties, watched their children grow up, and stood on the sidewalk in front of our houses talking for hours.

Then there was the other side.

A few months after moving in, we arrived home one day to find that those neighbors had installed sod in their yard. How nice.

Then I noticed the hose they were using to water their new lawn. It looked a lot like ours. Upon further study, I realized it was our hose…and it was still connected to our house.

We never really talked much to those neighbors after that. They had a dog that never shut up, hosted parties until all hours, parked anywhere they wished, and let their yard grow and grow and grow. And did I mention the dog?

It was to those neighbors that my mind wandered as I was sitting at Mass yesterday.

When I think of that reading – or the command in general – I also hear the voice of a priest friend, who, when reflecting on that reading at Mass years ago, said what I was thinking: “Like many of you…when I hear that instruction, I think, ‘Nice advice, God, but have you met my neighbors?’”

Loving our neighbors is tough. People are annoying. They don’t listen to our great advice. They overlook our gifts. They ignore us.

Still, I swear there are days that I think I can actually hear God telling me, “You know that ‘love your neighbor’ thing?”

“I meant that.”

So this week, I will remember that things are different. It’s a new day, a new beginning. It’s a day like no other in a week like no other in a place like no other. Sure, it all looks and sounds familiar, but this hasn’t happened before. This time. This place.

This week, I will love my neighbor. I will not take things so personally. I will remember that not everything is about me. I will forgive more easily. People will still be annoying, but I will remember that I am people too. So this week, I will remind myself that if God loves everyone, everyone is lovable.

As the great Dorothy Day said, “We only love God as much as the person we love the least.”

So, this week, love like God…and get yourself out of the way.

~pjd