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.

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

 

 

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

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

The Long Journey

Can you imagine life becoming so unbearable on the East Coast, so dangerous, so poverty-ridden, and so unsafe for you and your children, that you pack what little you can carry, take your children by the hand, and start walking?

Now imagine that this trek takes you from the East Coast to the West Coast – some three thousand miles. Even if you walked 15-20 miles a day, it would take you 280 days to make the journey. Too far? Just walk to Denver. From my house, that’s still 1,812 miles. Could you do that with your kids in hand, your belongings strapped to your back, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter?

I couldn’t.

And yet, history is filled with journeys.

We read about the Jews taking flight through the desert of all places, through the sea, up the mountains, and taking so long to make the passage that an entirely new generation arrives at the destination. We call it an Exodus and we celebrate their patience and the laws they received on their way.

We read about Mary and Joseph taking a trek on the back of a donkey and we pause to remember the sacrifice.

We remember the journeys of St. Paul and read nearly every Sunday about the communities of Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, and Thessalonica to whom he wrote and gave instructions we still ask our children to follow.

We read about two men, on their way to Emmaus, joined by the Risen Lord and reminded that, in the breaking of the bread, salvation is found.

And yet today, we read about thousands of people who are marching to a better life and we argue about how fast we can close the border.

These people are hungry and yet manipulated by immigration groups and the media. They are scared and yet willing to take on hard jobs most of us don’t want to do. They are worried about their safety but are willingly walking in the open air because they dream of a better tomorrow.

They are you and they are me. With skin of a different color and language we may not understand, they are us. They are our ancestors who journeyed on boats from foreign lands like Ireland and Italy and Hungary and Spain. Boats, I might add, onto which you and I would never step foot.

They are human and worthy of the same dignity we demand our children show one another.

To say otherwise flies in the face of all the other journeys we celebrate and remember.

This week, let us put down the newspaper, turn off the wifi, close the browser, and pick up a Bible.

The answers are there, I promise.

-pjd

Different Paths. Same Journey.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, there is a battle that plays out in every family. Who is the greatest? Who is the least? As my mother’s favorite, I can relate.

Then Jesus takes a child and makes some comments about having the faith of a child and about receiving the Word like one receives a child. But that is not my favorite part of the passage. Here are my favorite lines:

Then John said in reply,
“Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name
and we tried to prevent him
because he does not follow in our company.”
Jesus said to him,
“Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

You have to love a guy who wants to stop other people from doing that which is good and holy because that person doesn’t “follow in our company.” It’s like the party on the left yelling at the party on the right for doing what is right but going about it the wrong way. Or the people at work who accomplish a great task but get criticized because they didn’t go about it the way we would have. What kind of world would it be if we all kept our eyes on the Light and not on the path we took to get there?

I think this is what Pope Francis is talking about when he says, “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” (Gaudete et exsultate, 11)

This week let us be witnesses. Let us refrain from imitating others and be faithful to the gifts God has given us. Let us not fight about who is greatest or who is the least.

Most of all, let us recognize the good works going on around us and acknowledge that, even though we might have done the work differently, God is present.

~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?

 

Tell Them That They Are Good

I had lunch with a priest friend of mine the other day. I needed to get out of the office and talk about work and life and the intersection of what the press says is happening in the Catholic Church and what is really happening in the central offices. Plus, I wanted to make sure my friend was okay.

Priests are being painted with a very broad brush these days and it would be easy to forget that there are many, many good priests and bishops who are true to their vows and holy examples to us all. Yes, the leadership of the church, by and large, has zero credibility. And yes, the pope needs to speak soon so people know he cares. But it is also true that there are factions of the church that long for the pope’s downfall and no amount of action will alleviate that. Those same people forget how the church rushed to canonize a pope who never met with victims and largely ignored what was going on all over the world. There is a lesson in there for all of us and my guess is that historians will judge that we are better off when we let decades go by before chanting, “sainthood now.”

But back to lunch. My friend and I were talking about good preaching and I was lamenting about how much I miss my pastor, Fr. John, the consummate preacher and teacher. Our parish is still living in the in-between as we await the naming of a new pastor, six months after losing Fr. John.

My friend was telling me that his homiletics professor told his class to “always remember to tell the people that they are good.” I liked that.

We circled back to his teacher’s comments towards the end of lunch and my friend remarked how important such a message is in trying times. Then he told the story of a lady coming up to him after Mass a few weeks ago and asked, “Father, when are you going to stop telling us that we are good?”

The question surprised him, and he wondered why people think they are bad or what in our world has people convinced that such good news is unbelievable.

“What did you say to her?” I asked.

Without hesitation, he told me his answer. “I will stop telling you that you are good when you believe me.”

Wise words from a good friend.

This week I will remember that I am good. I am loved. I am saved.

So are you.

See. There is good news in the world.

~pjd