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

Hope

I have St. Paul on the brain these days. Especially the fifth line of the fifth chapter of Romans.

“Hope does not disappoint.”

I do not know why I started thinking of Paul or the Romans, but it came to me in prayer, frustration, hurt, anger, and finally, surrender over these past few days. As another crisis hit the church, my own crisis of confidence hit home.

People disappoint. Life disappoints. Circumstances disappoint. Children disappoint parents. Parents disappoint children. We disappoint each other. Sometimes even those we trust the most are disappointing – those we depend on for clarity lack it for a moment we discover the clay feet beneath our heroes.

But hope does not disappoint.

When I was in graduate school at Notre Dame a professor told my class that “hope” in the Christian sense is an action word. It has to be. It is a clarion call to do something. “Hope,” he said, “is an unsatisfactory view of the present, a satisfactory view of the future, and a commitment to change.”

Absent the commitment, it’s not hope. It’s whining.

Last year, while preparing a paper for my studies at LaSalle, I read the line, “If faith is a verb, it is an action verb, and hope is its future tense.”

Think about that for a minute.

in our present situation, what are we called to do today? Where will hope take us? What will hope challenge us to become?

Write a note. Make a call. Ask God to bless our leaders – political and spiritual – with the gift of right judgment. But above all, stop complaining about things we cannot fix or do not understand. Do something. Stop whining and hope.

Because hope does not disappoint.

-pjd

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…

Who We Obey Makes A Difference

From the archives (circa 2012)

On Sunday we heard, if we were really listening, great advice from the Acts of Apostles.

“We must obey God rather than man.”

Man tells us it’s okay to be mean if people deserve it or if it gets us ahead. God says, “ Love your neighbor.”

Man tells us it’s okay to execute in the name of government. God says, “Do not kill.”

Man tells us life begins whenever we say it begins and until then we can pretty much do what we want with that blob of cells. God says, “Before you were born, I called you by name.”

Man tells us that might makes right, power is everything, and the poor can take of themselves. God says, “The first shall be last,” and “As I have done, so you must do.”

Man tells us it’s okay to lie if it means we win the day, that the truth is flexible and its definition can change. God says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Man hates. God loves.

Man is intolerant. God welcomes everyone.

Man breaks down others. God builds us up.

Man gets lost. God gives Light.

Man despairs. God sends Hope.

Man crucifies. God resurrects.

Who we obey is a very big deal.

~pjd