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?

 

Words to Live By

Politics is in the news these days and whether you live in a red or blue state, vote right or left and somewhere in the middle, it is hard to avoid the noise coming out of the nation’s capital.

When I was in the Holy Land, the Dominican who guided us said something that has been on my mind these last few days. As we visited the Mount of Beatitudes, he asked the group if we could recite any words to the US Constitution. A few knew how it started, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense….” Then the voices trailed off.

Though no one could say much more, we knew the gist of it and could certainly explain what the Constitution did, its place in history, and why it was still important.

But that Father Paul threw us a curve. How many could recite the Beatitudes? We had just read Matthew 5:3-12 and yet few of us could remember more than a few of the eight in the list.

“We remember what guides a country, but not what guides our faith,” Father Paul challenged. He likened the Beatitudes to our own constitution. That got me thinking. By definition, a constitution is “a body of fundamental principles or established precedents,” so doesn’t it stand to reason that the Beatitudes are just that – fundamental principles of our Catholic faith?

Take some time this week and read Matthew, chapter five. See how many you can commit to memory (I’m up to six). Think about what each teaches. Imagine what it must have been like to be challenged by those words two thousand years ago.

As the good bishop, Fulton Sheen, once said, “If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.” Maybe living what we believe begins with knowing what we believe.

Now there’s a lesson our politicians could certainly use.

~pjd

 

(photo taken looking from the Church of the Beatitudes down the mountain)

Nothing Else Matters

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

These lines, from Matthew 10:37-39, set up what the Biblical scholars call “the conditions for discipleship.” I have to imagine that if you were having a first person experience of Jesus, you would have come to expect such instructions. And I can’t imagine if you were hanging out with a guy who changed water to wine, resurrected the official’s servant, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and calmed the sea, you would be bothered by putting Jesus first.

But looking at the lines with twenty first century eyes is another story. Lots of things can get in the way of putting Jesus first. Sometimes I love chocolate more than I should. Sometimes I love other foods, too, but chocolate always comes to mind. I love my children more than myself and want them to love God more than they love me, but sometimes it is hard to imagine loving anything more than I love them. A long car ride with all of us barreling down the highway in an enclosed place usually is enough to remind me that I really do love God more.

This week, I will live like nothing matters more than God. I will teach my children to do the same. Perhaps if we consciously work to put God first, speaking nicely to others will come naturally, helping around the house will come naturally, serving others in love will come naturally.

But first it requires acting as though loving God more than anything else also comes naturally. My children, like all children, I suppose, learn better by watching. How I live makes much more of a difference than what I say.

Unless I tell them I have chocolate to share. They always seem to hear that.

Distracted

Last week was spent in Orlando at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, but more on that another time. Needless to say, sometimes when I travel and get stuck in a hotel for days on end, I lose track of days and this trip was no different. I spent the first few days at the annual meeting of the Leadership Roundtable and the following four or five days with other delegates from the Diocese of Bridgeport at the Convocation. It was Tuesday before I realized Five Minutes on Monday never went out.

This week would have been another forgotten week, were it not for the handy reminder I put in my phone last Tuesday.

Yesterday, I drove from our home in Connecticut to La Salle University in Philadelphia. The trip is supposed to take about three hours, but was extended when some clown didn’t realize the signs along the Merritt Parkway indicating the low clearance were supposed to be taken seriously and sheered off the top of his box truck, sending someone’s belongings all along the highway. What a mess. The distraction of the traffic gave me more time to sit in silence in the car. More time to pray. More time to think. More time to sing along or listen to podcasts.

For the next few days I will continue my doctoral studies at La Salle. Four friends will wrap up their coursework and take their oral comprehensives this week. We started together and, all things being equal, I would be taking my comps too. But life gets in the way and, like with many things in my life, I am behind. Maybe next year.

As I caught up with friends last night, we chatted about the many distractions that keep our lives and our studies from staying on track. Many of us are delayed in the program because of births and deaths or new jobs and family crisis. One has cancer. Another lost a job. One classmate is a Protestant Minister and just began new ministry with a new congregation. Distractions abound.

I am reminded from this morning’s Gospel reading that sometimes there is great beauty in the distractions. Were it not for the distraction of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak, she would not have been healed and Jesus would have arrived at the house of the official before the professional mourners. The distractions are the ministry.

My goal this week is to write a 25-page paper on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and its implications for faith formation in the United States. Between 21 hours of classroom instruction and conversation back in June and a dozen or so articles and books, my biggest hope is to write the paper in such a way that it’s not just a collection of quotes. If I work quickly, I will submit my paper Wednesday morning, go see family in Philadelphia, and head home.

Unless, of course, I get distracted.

Risking Weakness

If society is judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, then surely our brothers and sisters in Washington have work to do. The latest movement of the House of Representatives aside, our elected officials at the local, state, and federal level should be encouraged to give some serious thought to how we care for those most in need – even if they have been sick or depressed, lonely or in crisis, in control of their faculties or struggling to remember – for some time. What some would call pre-existing conditions, others call a way of life.

So this morning, I turned, as I often do, to a book my parents gave me when I left home. Today’s reading was from Matthew 25. The sheep and the goats. How appropriate. For so many years, I thought about this as only a call to care for “the least of my brothers (and sisters).” Sure, it’s a call to help others. But maybe it’s more.

If you read the whole passage you begin to understand its context. Matthew is not just writing about the end time, when those who have helped others will go to heaven and those who ignored those in need will go to hell. It is, instead, a call to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Look at Matthew 12: the family of Jesus (his brothers and sisters) are those disciples gathered around him – men, women, children.

So to live like Jesus means to risk being homeless (“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” cf Mt 8 and Luke 9). To live like Jesus is to be like Jesus, with less concern for the material things of this world and more concern for the welfare of others (cf Mt 19). We have to risk being hungry. We have to risk being ostracized. We have to risk being poor (all this is in Matthew too).

It’s not just that the rich must help the poor or those with much must offer what they have to those who have not, it’s more than that. To live like Jesus means to risk being weak so that we might receive from those whom we are called to serve. It is easy to think of Jesus as the only teacher in the crowd, but every good teacher learns from the student.

If society is judged – if any of us are judged – by how we treat those who are most in need, perhaps the judgement begins when we decide what we are willing to risk in service to others.

That’s The Deal

Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration yesterday gives us the opportunity in Lent to take a break from all the penitence and sacrificing to celebrate what is possible. Jesus is transfigured – glorified – before the eyes of a few of his followers who share the account so all may be reminded of what is possible for everyone.

God became man so that man could taste divinity. Jesus is transfigured before a few to show the possibilities for all of us. That’s why Peter wants to build tents, remember the moment, memorialize the wonder and awe of the occasion. We all want to do that, don’t we? We don’t want the happiness of a moment to end. We want to stay in those experiences of bliss, unexpected and overwhelming joy. It’s why we build snowmen, take pictures on the roller coasters, and keep journals. I imagine if Peter, Andrew, or John had had a cell phone, we’d be remembering the moment by looking a selfie with the transfigured Jesus. But if we stay on the mountain, we only get half the story. Sure, it’s a great story – filled with wonderful feelings and ecstatic joy. But the picture is incomplete.

The joy on the mountain is but a moment. As C.S. Lewis so wonderfully reminds us, “The pain I feel now is part of the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” We celebrate the Transfiguration in the midst of Lent because the joy the Apostles feel on that mountain is part of the agony they will experience, albeit unbeknownst to them, at the crucifixion. One will deny, another will abandon. But in time, they will come to see that it is all connected.

We build snowmen and take pictures because life goes on. Moments pass. Snow melts. We suffer tragedy and we agonize through experiences and all of these are wrapped up together in this fragile journey we call life. I am not being fatalistic or alarmist. It’s just how it is.

So pause this week and celebrate the joy, the stillness of snow or the beginning of springtime. Celebrate the wonder. Pray for the suffering. Smile at the stranger. Welcome the guest. It’s all connected – our happiness and sorrow, our pain and joy.

The happiness now is part of the pain then. The pain now is part of a happiness we cannot even imagine.

That’s the deal.

Whatsoever You Do

“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

These lines, taken by Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” have been in the news of late as politicians and pundits quote the lines in response to the president’s latest executive order.

But if you know your history, you know that The Statue of Liberty, which arrived in New York in 1885 and was officially unveiled in 1886, was not very popular at first. No one likes it when a gift ends up costing money. Lazarus is credited as being among the first to really understand the significance of Lady Liberty. Still, her poem did not become famous until years later. In 1901 a friend rediscovered her words and in 1903 the last lines of the poem were engraved on a plaque and placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty does not hold those words in her hand, as some on Twitter would have you believe. Someone who was paying attention had to place them where they live today.

If you want to quote something that underscores the fecklessness of the executive order, go back to another text, written hundreds of years before.

“Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45).

I imagine that passage was not met with overwhelming popularity when it was first announced. Be nice to my enemy? Are you kidding? Open my door to the hungry, the homeless, the refugee? The ones who smell? Are you serious? They are so different than me. Welcome the stranger? But what if they hurt me? Shouldn’t I first test them to see what their intentions are, have them fill out paperwork, wait in line for years, and then help them? Wouldn’t that be safer?

I would imagine the best way to turn someone against you, to foster their supposed hate for you is to slam in the door in their face and tell them they are not welcome.

We have been preaching the Gospel of Matthew for a few thousand years.

The time has come to show our brothers and sisters in need whether we really believe what we preach. As the great Fulton Sheen reminded his pupils, “If you do not live what you believe, you will end up believing what you live.”

God is love. That is not an alternate fact. It is Truth. Those of us who say we believe in God should remember that.

Blind Guides

I can relate to this morning’s Gospel reading. Jesus is chastising the Pharisees for their arrogance, their impudence, and their failure to hold themselves accountable to the same rules they force upon others. The Pharisees, in short, miss the point.

Sometimes, so do I.

I mistake the whining for immaturity when it is really rooted in hunger. I mistake the moodiness for irritation with siblings when it is really rooted in nervousness about a new school. I mistake the over-sensitivity for pettiness when it is a struggle to find balance between a child and being a big girl. I excuse the lack of confidence on the fact that she is the youngest, when really she just wants to find her place among the others.

I get irritated when the dishwasher is not filled the way it should be but do not take the time to teach them how to do it. I complain about the condition of the bedroom but do not take time to help straighten it. I expect maturity and empathy and responsibility but sometimes fail to lead by example.

Blind guides indeed. Blind parents. Blind father.

This week, I will teach instead of tell. I will model instead of demand. I will listen for the explanation instead of jumping to conclusions.

This week, I will be less pharisaic and more like the Master.

The real struggle is what happens next week, and the next, and the next…

 

 

Three Steps

Looking ahead to this week’s Gospel readings had me searching through the archives of this blog when it appeared in another form. I love the reading about walking on water (Mt 14). It puts me in the mood for impossible things. So here is the earlier reflection with some updates:

I can imagine the storm, the darkness, and the fear. I can imagine what it must have been like to feel alone, wondering if anyone would help as the waves got bigger and I feel smaller. It’s like that feeling you get when you are in bed and you swear you hear a noise…and you freeze. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

Then Jesus comes along – wait, is that Jesus? Sometimes I don’t recognize Him. Is He in a boat? Or are we that close to shore? No, wait. He is walking on the water. Holy cow. It’s like He is stepping on stones as he comes closer and closer.

Then Peter, that rock, that steady but sometimes dim witted leader, says something to Jesus and Jesus responds. What are they talking about? Then Pete hops out of the boat and starts walking on the water too. This is incredible. I forget about the storm. I forget about my fear. I am watching the impossible; or rather two men doing the impossible.

Suddenly Peter begins sinking. What did he say? He must have called out, because Jesus reached after him and brought him to safety, but he had that look on his face, Jesus did…that look that says, “Why do you persist in your unbelief? Why are you so hard hearted?” I’ve seen that look before.

Later Jesus is asleep and we are giving Peter a hard time. He did, after all, lose faith and start to sink. If it weren’t for Jesus he probably would have drowned.

Peter takes it all in stride. He just listens for a bit and then starts to smile. It’s a smile that comes from knowing the Truth.

“Three steps,” he say. We are silent.

“Three steps,” he repeats.

“How many steps did you take on the water? I may have started sinking, but I took three more steps than the rest of you…”

He is right. We are well rebuked.

Jesus will be all around me this week and in many cases, I probably won’t recognize Him. I am often distracted by life.

“Three steps,” I say to myself.

How many steps will you take this week?

 

Photo: Sea of Galilee, taken on visit with CRS in 2000

 

Signs

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear some of the scribes and Pharisees demand of Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

As violence begets more violence and the world seems to go indiscriminately mad around us, wouldn’t it be great to get a sign from God that everything was going to be okay and that if we really try, we can achieve peace?

And yet those signs are here. In the children who resolve differences without fists, in the parents who love their children without hitting them, in the neighbors who learn to get along, in the countries that settle disputes without declaring war. We ask for signs from God while we ignore the presence of God around us. Like the man waiting to be rescued from the flood, we miss the radio announcement, the boat, and the helicopter….you know the story.

Once upon a time, when Gandhi sought to enter a church, he was told he was not welcomed. “I’d be a Christian,” he was reported to have said, “If only the Christians acted like Christians.”

Perhaps this week we can find the signs of God around us. Perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to spread peace instead of violence, joy instead of fear, love instead of anger.

Because I am willing to bet, if you look around, God is here.

Waiting to be recognized.