Surprised

I attended a conference in Indianapolis last week. It was only for a few days and flying in and through Chicago gave me an appreciation for hats, coats, and gloves. The conference was about theological exploration and, though I didn’t really want to take the time away from home and work, I am glad I did.

I forgot that I could still be surprised by the stories of others.

Like the woman in my small group who shyly told of being on the FBI “list” back in the day when she and her friends sat in at a lunch counter and shut Dillard’s department store down “because they would not hire blacks.” Now she is an ordained minister in the AME church in Arkansas – the first woman to hold that distinction.

Or the man who worked as both a priest and psychologist with first responders after 9/11.

Or the young lady struggling to teach college students and raise her own two young children.

Or any of the other stories of faith I encountered – one surprise after another.

And I forgot that I could be overwhelmed by prayer.

For two mornings, our prayer was led by a group out of Richmond, VA called Urban Doxology. While many in the room danced, waved their arms, and shouted: “Amen,” I was more of the “chosen and frozen” kind of pray-er, rocking back and forth like I was putting a baby to sleep, but still moved to tears at the songs of praise and powerful witness.

After Friday morning prayer, when I was psychologically done with the conference and emotionally ready to go home, I found myself seeking out one of the worship leaders. She had given a powerful testimony about her struggle with anxiety and sang a song that saved her once and continues to save her today.

As we started to talk, I told her about my own child who, at age 13, struggles with anxiety. I found myself choking up and I simply said, “You give me hope,” to this young woman with such a gift for music and such a witness to the 100 or so gathered.

“Can we pray?” she asked. Sheepishly, I agreed.

She began, “Heavenly Father, we pray for Patrick’s baby girl….” And I lost it.

But as she prayed, I was overcome with a sense of relief. My oldest will always be my baby girl. She will always be my Ace Number One. And I knew at this moment she would be okay. In all my distractions, I remembered that there is a God who loves her more than I can ever comprehend, even if the child wonders if that’s always true.

“Amen,” the prayer concluded, and I thanked her.

I forgot that I could be overwhelmed by prayer.

~pjd

Distracted

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have studied his work and read his questions and answers many times. I am challenged each day by the three paths to God of which he writes: truth, beauty, and goodness. 

But I find that I am distracted. 

Distracted with worry about the child whose fever is high and whose congestion convinces her she cannot breath

Distracted by the unedited chapters of my dissertation that await my approach when I find the time. 

Distracted by the news I fear may come in the next few days or weeks.

Distracted about the trip I take this week, missing work and family and having to navigate airports and luggage and parking.

Distracted about the unfinished lists in my head and on my desk.

Distracted by the people in front of me at Mass that show up late, chatter throughout, and then leave after Communion. 

Distracted that I cannot seem to focus in prayer. 

Distracted by bills that did not get paid this month.

Distracted.

So, in desperation, I turned to the good St. Thomas: “Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.”

And it makes me wonder: is it a lack of faith that distracts me? If I understand that “faith is God’s work within us,” could I be so bold as to give my distractions over to God? Will any worry today fix any of these things tomorrow? Will the hope of change be enough or must there be a commitment to change, to act, to do something. 

If there really is nothing to be accomplished by worrying, why worry? 

Easier said than done. 

Perhaps, for now, I can simply ask St. Thomas to guide me, intervene for me, console me.

“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.”

St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

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.

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

 

 

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.

 

How We Define Love Matters

There are a few books I will pick up again and again. I will read a passage that moved me, that I highlighted, or that I need for a paper or an article I am writing. Sometimes I read the whole book again. Like an old friend that you keep coming back to for advice, books can be like that.

This weekend, I found my copy of This is How by Augusten Burroughs. It’s an easy read and quite powerful. What drew me to this particular book was a section where he speaks about love. Here, he is a modern day St. Paul and we are the Corinthians, needing a reminder.

We “identify love by knowing what it’s not: love doesn’t use a fist. Love never calls you fat or lazy or ugly. Love doesn’t laugh at you in front of friends. It is not in Love’s interest for your self-esteem to be low. Love is a helium-based emotion; Love always takes the high road. Love does not make you beg. Love does not make you deposit your paycheck into its bank account. Love certainly never, never, never brings the children into it. Love does not ask or even want you to change. But if you change, Love is as excited about this change as you are, if not more so. And if you go back to the way you were before you changed, Love will go back with you. Love does not maintain a list of your flaws and weaknesses. Love believes you.” ― Augusten Burroughs, This Is How

I was drawn back to this passage as I read about explosives in the mail, the shooting in the synagogue and, how, instead of coming together, everyone just blamed everyone else. The president blames the media and takes no responsibility for inciting the violence. The media blames the president and takes no responsibility for the way they cover these events. It’s not a sensational story. It’s a tragedy. And, Mr. President, everything bad that happens isn’t the Democrats’ fault. If only people would think before they speak, virtually and vocally.

All of us would be wise to remember the words of St. Paul. His passage in Corinthians is often used for weddings but Paul was obviously addressing a different conceptualization of love, that of Christian caritas which should be the defining force in our lives. “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians, 13:4-7)

Pretty sound advice.

Tired of St. Paul? This one is easy – “Love your neighbor.” We read that eight times in the Bible. Loving your neighbor is the opposite of selfishness. Acting in divine love demonstrates that unselfishness is possible for a human — showing a reality that cannot be ignored or denied. Whether your neighbor loves you back is irrelevant. Whether they appreciate you doesn’t matter at all. All that matters is that Jesus’ command to love one another is still valid.

It is possible to love one another, to be charitable, kind, compassionate, and patient.

Perhaps it starts with a little self-control.

-pjd

Lighting Our Lamps

This morning’s Gospel gives us Luke’s version of one of my favorite passages in Matthew.

Jesus said to the crowd:
“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed;
rather, he places it on a lampstand
so that those who enter may see the light.
For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible,
and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.
Take care, then, how you hear.
To anyone who has, more will be given,
and from the one who has not,
even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

 In this parable of the lamp, we are given very clear instructions: those who have heard the Word of God are to show it to others – in word and in action.

Even when we are surrounded by darkness (perhaps especially when we are surrounded by darkness), we are to be a light for others.

This week, it might be worth asking: when people look at our lives, can they see light? Does that light direct them towards God or towards ourselves? Do we let the darkness overwhelm us? Consume us? Paralyze us?

This week, I will work on being a light. I will work on reflecting the love of God to others so that they may see the good things I do and thank God for my presence in their lives.

Will you?

 

A Prayer for the First Week of School

Master and Teacher,

Bless the students who will have trouble settling down this week, whose minds are still at the beach or at grandma’s swimming pool, or the amusement park or soccer camp.

Bless those who sit nervously in class: those who are new in school and those who never read anything over the summer and know a test is coming anyway.

Bless those who will struggle, those who will succeed, and those who get lost in the crowd.

Bless the new friendships that will begin on day one and bless those cherished friendships that will be renewed.

Bless them all with compassion, that they may root for the underdog, celebrate those who accomplish much, and pray fervently for each other.

Bless them with an environment free from bullying, needless competition, and petty jealousy.

Help them, Lord, to fall in love with learning.

Bless the parents of these students, their first teachers in the ways of faith. Give them patience when the homework takes too long, give them the courage to understand that their children are not perfect and give them the courage to discipline with love. May they abdicate less and partner more.

And we beg you, Lord, to bring these children safely home at the end of the day, the week, or the semester. Keep them free from violence – at home and at school – on the bus and on the streets – and guide them home to the waiting arms of those who loved them first.

Finally, Lord, we pray in the thanksgiving for the men and women who have already been hard at work straightening desks, taping names to cubbies, painting lockers, planning classes cleaning rooms, decorating bulletin boards, hanging posters, and studying test scores. Bless these servants with peace, patience, persistence, and your Spirit, that they may be Your presence to our young people, Your hands, and Your voice.

We make this prayer through Christ our Lord: teacher, servant, and source of all hope.

Amen.

Pray Always

Vacation is over, and we have tons of stories to tell. But we will save those for another time (plus, many of you traveled with us virtually).

In this week’s Gospel readings, we hear all about getting into heaven. With the exception of Friday, when we celebrate the feat of Feast of Saint Bartholomew, all the rest of the Gospel readings are about vines and branches, wedding feasts, faithful people who do not want to give up possessions, and the like. It reminds me of the bumper sticker I saw once upon a time. It read, “Heaven. Everyone wants to go but no one wants to buy a ticket.” How true.

We read about sinfulness in the papers and hear about it in our churches. These days, we cannot seem to escape the sins of the past and the sinful cover-ups that followed. We hear about those who lost their innocence (or, rather, had it stolen from them), those who suffered with them (family, friends, counselors), and those innocent men and women who have done no wrong, served the church faithfully, and yet are painted with the same brush as those deplorable people who preyed on the young.

What’s the solution? Mass resignation by all US bishops? The pope removing those who covered up the sins of so many? Protests? Letters? Righteous anger?

Let’s start with prayer.

Horrible people did unspeakable things. Those in charge covered it up. Anyone who has been paying attention for the last decade and a half knew this day was coming. Those in ministry knew that the crisis of the abuse itself was only the first part of the story. Now the day of reckoning for those who looked the other way transferred the predators and ignored civil and church law will need to be held accountable. That is not likely to be an easy task and it definitely will not be a pretty one. There will be more hurt, more anger, more stories to tell.

So, let’s start with prayer. Let us pray for those we know were abused and those who have yet to tell their story. Let us pray for those who will need to make the decision to hold others accountable. It is an unenviable, albeit necessary, task. Let us pray for those who work every day to protect God’s children. Let us pray for those good men and woman who wear their habit, robe, collar, and lapel pin and who have never abused, neglected, covered up, or conspired. Let us pray for the faithful who are thinking about walking away.

And let us pray for each other. In more than 2,000 years, the church – and Christianity itself – has undergone reform and renewal, suffered through difficult times and sinful times. But we place our hope on the Vine, the Master, the Bridegroom, the Servant, the Teacher one who washes feet. We place our trust and hope in One greater than any of us – all of us put together.

Prayer may not seem like enough, but perhaps it’s a good place to start.

Come, Holy Spirit, renew the face of the Earth…

A Solemn Prayer

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America,
my home sweet home
God bless America,
my home sweet home

Irving Berlin
1918


Happy Fourth of July, everyone, and may God continue to bless America.