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

Looking Up

This time of year always makes me think of the early followers of Jesus. Perhaps it is the combination of Easter, new life, springtime, and allergies. Trust me, it’s all connected in my head.

The readings for this season are all about those early days, how an experience of God-through-Jesus led people to faith. There are stories about how those experiences led to inclusion, exclusion, joy, and suffering. How persecution gives way to stronger faith and how conversion leads to a paradigm shift that gives the early church new leadership.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ(which is well worth seeing). The article cited a remarkable fact: when Paul died in A.D. 67, there were 2,500 Christians. By the year 350, there were 34 million. Think about that for a second. In a time when you would be killed for professing faith in the Risen Jesus, the Good News spread, more people came to faith than left it, and the church flourished.

Then Constantine came along and institutionalized the faith into religion and things have never quite been the same. It seems we might have been better off when we had to tell the story than when we were allowed to tell the story. More on that another time.

This week, we will read about those early followers standing alone, looking at the sky, waiting for Jesus to return. They did not know when he would return, only that he had promised to return. So they stood there, staring at the sky, missing life around them.

The family continued our trek through the Marvel movies this weekend with Dr. Strange. In some ways, it was a typical superhero story: an overachieving protagonist is really a jerk at his core, arrogant and narcissistic. Then his world comes crashing down and he comes face to face with the one incontrovertible fact we all face at some point: life is not all about you. That new perspective requires a basic change in position. We no longer live for ourselves. We live for others.

The early followers figured this out. For them, it was never about gathering for Mass, making sure it only lasted an hour and then screaming at each other when one donkey cut another donkey off in the first-century parking lot. No, it was about serving others in the name of Jesus. It was telling the Jesus story. It was about the family meal where we remembered the sacrifice and sacred instruction. It was about taking care of the widows and orphans, the least among us, and caring for the basic needs in society. There was no right or left, only the Christ I see in you – and that required an action. It required selflessness. It required love.

Spoiler alert: the Jesus story still requires all those things. If only we could stop staring at the sky and get to work.

~pjd

Losing Our Way

Like many people, I use Waze to help me get from point A to point B. I call the disembodied voice Gladys and, most of the time, she is very helpful.

Last week, I was headed to a parish I had not visited before. I could see it. I knew in my gut it was a left turn ahead and not a right turn. But Gladys kept telling me to turn right, so I did. My instincts, it turned out, were correct. Gladys was wrong.

As I pulled into a driveway and turned around, it made me wonder why I listen to the voice coming from my phone more than I listen to the voice inside my own head. I thought about all this again on Thursday as the young people from my class at Sacred Heart University circled the neighborhood looking for our house. I had invited them over to watch A Man for All Seasons as we ended the semester but I finally had to send two of the children outside to flag some of them down.

You see, when the neighborhood was built, the new homes were mostly for executives from General Electric and everyone got to choose their own house numbers. I am not kidding. We live at 301 but 305 is across the street. 87 is roughly seven houses away and is next door to 228. There are not “evens on this side and odds on that side.” Nope, it’s a big hot mess. I will admit, however, that it is fun to watch the substitute UPS driver try to figure it out. Apparently, the personal assistants the students were using could not figure it out either and so the children were sent to flag them down.

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) And yet, we often give more authority to our smartphones (which are making us dumber, some would argue), or the television (real news vs. fake news), or the people around us (even if ill-informed). We live in a world where it will soon be possible to animate a real person and have that person appear to say things the person never actually said. Think about that. You could be watching television and think you are watching the Pope or the President or the leader of another country giving a speech when, in reality, the words are made up to incite others, not inform them. To echo Mark Twain, that false account will likely get around the world much faster than the truth.

Jesus is the way to God, the way to peace, the way to life eternal. No hacker or virus or false media report can make that less true. It is the Truth to which we must be converted so absolutely that it dominates our every thought, word, and deed.

This week, I will silence the voices around me – in my car, on my phone, and in my head – and listen to the Truth I learned long ago. Might I challenge you to do the same?

May your week be blessed.

-pjd

Converted

On Friday this week, we hear about the conversion of St. Paul.

I love that at the root of his faith is his experience.

His conversion experience is so powerful it becomes his whole life, his whole world. It defines his reality. The institutional church makes him a hero. In reality, he is a rebel. Paul doesn’t go along with the parameters; he sets the parameters.

He trusts his experience. It is not an “outer” authority with which he speaks, but an “inner” authority. So convinced is Paul of his conversion experience, he gives himself the title, apostle to the gentiles. Apostle: a title reserved in those early days for those who had experienced the risen Jesus.

Both Jesus and Paul trust their experience of God against the tradition. Over time, the institutional church takes the experience of both and domesticates it. There has to be a balance, I think, between trusting our “inner” authority and falling over into relativism.

There’s room for the “outer” authority, to be sure. But I don’t think we should be on bended knee before it either. I think we should behave as those who know something deep within – an experience of a God who won’t let go, no matter what.

In Galatians 2, Paul says quite clearly, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…”

Powerful words. Such was Paul’s experience that he understood – before Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John ever told him – the death of Jesus was Paul’s own death to sin. One death for all.

So strong was the bond for Paul that it was not his words changing lives, but Christ’s. Not his actions, saving souls, but the resurrected Jesus’, now confessed as Christ.

For Paul, life became all about participation in the Body of Christ. We no longer live in the world and go to Church, rather we live as Church and go out to the world. It’s a basic change in position and it can only happen after we’ve been thrown to the ground and converted.

And what’s the opposite of participation?

Control.

Think about it. Do we participate or do we control?

I really do love St. Paul.

~pjd

Twins

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I have an affinity for good old Thomas. I get Thomas. I knew we would hear about him this week, just like we do every year around Easter. So I was prepared.

I even talked to a friend at work about Thomas on Friday afternoon. He’s a deacon and was preparing his Sunday homily. Lucky for me, we get to talk about such things at work and so Thomas came up in the conversation. As you know, Thomas was not present when Jesus first appears to the disciples. They were locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews. Thomas simply was not there.

Did you ever stop to think why? Where was he? Doing laundry? Catching up on some sleep (Easter can be exhausting)? Visiting his family?

The truth is, we do not know. What we do know is that in John 11:16, it is Thomas who says to the others, Let us also go, that we may die with him,” as Jesus works to convince his followers that they must return to Judea. He does not hesitate, this Thomas. If suffering is what Jesus has to endure, then let us go and endure it with him. They are, the story says, on their way back because Lazarus has died. So Thomas, presumably, knows what Jesus is capable of doing.

So where is he on that “evening of the first day of the week,” while the others were locked in a room, trembling with fear.

Could it be that he was not afraid?

Could it be that, even after all that he had seen and experienced, he trusted Jesus and knew the work must continue?

Assuming I am correct and Thomas was out and about telling the Jesus-story. Why does he doubt when the others tell him that Jesus had visited?

Perhaps the answer is in his name.

Thomas is called Didymus. It’s the Greek word for Twin. But whose twin?

Could it be – is it possible – that you and I are the twins of Thomas? Could it be that the name is given to those who struggle and wonder and doubt, even though the answer is right in front of them?

Could it be that, even after all the goodness and holiness and wonder and awe we experience, we still question if Jesus is present.

“My Lord and my God.” My everything. My master. My teacher. My witness. My ruler, leader, superior, monarch, sovereign, and king.

It is the cry of one who is – and was – faithful, but just forgets now and then to really see.

~pjd

Best Dad Ever

The title of this entry comes from the birthday card my youngest made for me. She is known for her brutal honesty, so I am taking her words for Gospel.

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the patron saint of fathers (Joseph is also patron saint of the Universal Church, families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general), so he and I share a bond. I don’t have any kids like Jesus, but they try.

Since yesterday was my birthday, the children were extra well behaved. The yelling was limited only to the moments when child number three hit child number four (two times) or when child number two “tripped” on child number three’s outstretched leg (only once). They made cards and gave me a wrapped package of Junior Mints. They used money I had given them for when they go to town after play practice, so technically, I think I bought the Junior Mints.

We had our standard dad’s birthday dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes, and broccoli. Apparently, I thought we were having company because I have enough mashed potatoes for a week.

Maureen made sure I got to spend the entire day with the kids and enjoy their company all by myself, having gotten herself checked into the hospital on St. Patrick’s Day. She’s still there, hooked up to pain meds for some mysterious illness that has her doubled over in pain. I told the children she probably forgot to buy me a present.

Nothing is recorded in Scriptures about St. Joseph’s words to his family. He gets a message in a dream, but even the Blessed Mother gets to speak once in a while. And yet, he is a model for fathers everywhere. There’s a lesson in there, albeit an ironic one, about who gets to talk and who gets to listen.

This week, be like Joseph and listen more. Speak less. Work hard. And, like Joseph certainly did for Jesus, teach your children well.

St. Joseph, patron of best dads everywhere, pray for us.

~pjd

A Good Measure

In this morning’s Gospel reading, our instructions are pretty clear.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

But what is mercy? Patience? Kindness? Forgiveness? Compassion? Can I be full of mercy and not really like somebody? Can I have patience, but not with everyone? About this kindness thing, just how kind are we talking?

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.”

Okay, this is getting trickier. I am going to need to think more about this. I am an expert judge when it comes to other people. 

“Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

Not a problem. My wife is always saying that she is impressed with my capacity to forgive. I do not do a great job of forgetting, however, so I could work on that. A friend told me recently that real forgiveness is choosing to love. It is remembering that the reason you first loved someone is greater than your righteous anger.

“Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.”

This is good news. I like when the Gospels talk about gifts. I like getting gifts. I like giving gifts. I think I am a pretty generous person. It’s nice to know that some of that generosity might be coming back my way…though I guess that is not really the point, is it?

“For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

If this means, “what goes around comes around,” I might be in serious trouble.

Perhaps this week I will try very hard not to judge, to stop condemning (even people who might deserve it….there I go again) and to give more generously, forgive more easily, and come to understand more completely what it means to be merciful.

(sigh)

Lent is hard.

~pjd

Evil Around Us

In this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 5:1-20), we see that great scene in which Jesus is confronted by a man “with an unclean spirit” and, after a brief conversation (“Legion is my name. There are many of us.”), Jesus commands the unclean spirit to enter the swineherd, which then run off the cliff and drown themselves.

I would imagine it was quite a dramatic scene, especially with all the dead pigs now in the water, but if we stop and think about it, there is – as always – more to the story.

What do we do with the evil around us? The gossip? The secrets we cannot seem to keep? The opportunities to talk badly about those around us? The countless chances to be mean or ignore a chance for mercy in favor of our own idea of justice?

Do we command the evil spirits to be gone or do we join in? Do we give the evil spirits a place to live or do we send them packing?

There is never a swineherd around when you need one, but maybe this week, we can make a conscious effort to send the evil away and choose to live the Jesus way.

Give me strength, O Lord.