“I think of it like a…”

Christ is the light of the world.

I like to think of God’s presence as being similar to light. It is source by which we can see and know things; it is brighter in some places than others; and one would have to search high and low to find a place void of it completely. God is most everywhere, yes, but concentrated in certain places more than others.

 

This used to be a huge body of water.

 

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to follow the examples of Death Valley or the Dead Sea. The former gave so much of itself without replenishment that it ended up dry and withered, incapable of giving any longer; the latter took so much from others without sharing that it became so salty that it cannot support life.

Letting go can hurt more than holding on.

 

Purgatory is like a powerfully clenched fist refusing to let go. The only way out is accepting, forgiving, and releasing one’s will. There is no outside force violently ripping the hand open and causing pain. There’s only the inside pain caused by the slow realization that the thing it’s holding isn’t what it truly wants anymore, and finding a way to let it go.

Same thing, three forms

 

 

Trying to wrap my head around one God as three persons is difficult. The best I can do is remember that ice, water, and steam are all the same chemical but each take different forms.

 

We are the "Go Between" God and the world.

I think we’re each like an individual GOBO, an apparatus placed on the front of a light with a specific shape or color for use in theatre (literally a “Goes before optics” or “Go Between”). By itself, it projects nothing; it needs a light source. Each Gobo comes with its own individual angles, colors, and levels of transparency through which the light must pass, causing the same light source to be projected in different ways. For me, it’s better than the image of empty pipe that connects God to the world because it accepts that we can’t ever be objectively unbiased; how we accept God, interpret him, and transmit him are all biases we bring to the world.

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The Charism of Preaching

Dennis and I hold a bible study every Wednesday.

While acting as Retreat Coordinator and Program Director for my Catholic Campus Ministry in college, I was able to recognize and develop a charism of speaking/preaching. Though difficult and uncomfortable at first, many years of practice helped me to develop confidence, and eventually find great joy in each experience. I can’t say that I’m ready to stand up and give a sermon everyday in front of a church full of people, but given my experience so far, it’s definitely charism that I would like discern for the future. As a postulant, I’ve been given two great opportunities to do just that.

The first opportunity is a shared bible study that Dennis and I run each week at our ministry site, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Jeanne Jugan Residence. Usually attended by about 15-20 residents, Dennis and I spend an hour reading and preaching about a number of passages related to an overall theme, trying to engage the residents in a discussion about their own experiences. So far we’ve looked at women in the bible, images of God, parables related to the kingdom of heaven, forgiveness and humility, and Christ the King.

Because of the laid-back nature of the bible study, we’ve enjoyed the chance to preach in an almost pressure-free atmosphere to see what it might be like at a larger venue. The consistency of a weekly bible study helps to simulate a weekly homily and to get in the habit of preparing beforehand with well written thoughts. On the other hand, it also gives us the opportunity to speak a bit more extemporaneously, honing in our ability to come up with fruitful responses with little preparation.

The second opportunity occurred yesterday when Ramon and I traveled down to Rehoboth Beach, DE, to help with a parish mission. Speaking to some of the 7th, 8th, and 9th graders in religious education, we were given an hour to share about our experience of Church at that age in order to promote a more active involvement. Our tandem speech had three parts, each beginning with participation from the students: 1) what is Church? 2) What can a middle schooler do to be a part of Church? and 3) What does it mean to be an adult in the Church?

Not unlike the bible studies with Dennis, this opportunity allowed us to speek in front of a small group of people on topic of which we are very passionate, gauging the responsiveness of the listeners and adapting our styles based on their questions and responses. But unlike the bible study, the parish mission required us to prepare a bit more beforehand, and to coordinate our speeches so as to present a common message. Having never given a partner speech such as this, it was certainly a challenging but fruitful experience in teamwork.

If for nothing else, these two experiences have (and will continue) to help me discern the charism of preaching in my own life. I realize that I’ve been given at least a mustard seed worth of this charism, and through practice and prayer will have to wait and see if it grows into a full-sized vocation. As a supplement to my discernment, I’ve also been reading a lot about St. Anthony of Padua: besides being great at finding things, he is noted as being one of the greatest preachers the Church has ever known, and a truly inspirational figure. Hopefully through his intercession I will be able to discern this charism a bit more fully and maybe even have a little bit of his ability rub off on me!

An Alternative Interpretation…

Is this figure God, or an unjust king?

This week in the lectionary, we got the opportunity to hear the the same story, the parable of the talents, from two different writers, used in two different liturgical settings. Found in both Matthew and Luke, it is a very familiar passage, and the sermon that follows is often just as common: God gives each of us gifts, and we are expected to use them for his glory. It’s a nice message, sure. But is that what Jesus is actually trying to tell us? I would like to offer an alternate interpretation for discernment.

Today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees helps to frame the story in a different light. Having already tortured and killed six of a woman’s seven sons because they refused to renounce the LORD, Antiochus turned to the last son: “As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.” Ultimately, the youngest son declines his offer and accepts death rather than denounce his faith in the LORD; all of the money, power, and status in the world are not worth the price of supporting evil.

Using this message as a foundation, I think the traditional interpretation of the parable of the talents is largely insufficient. Take, for instance, the role of the nobleman. If he is a symbol for God from whom we receive “talents,” why do his servants send ahead to say they wish him not to be king? Why does he “take up where he does not lay down,” or “harvest where he does not plant?” Why does he condemn the servent for not engaging in usury, an act clearly condemned by God in the Law? Why, just before the parable of the sheep and the goats in which Jesus rewards those who help the poor (Matthew 25:31-46), would a God figure say, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”? These are all qualities of an unjust ruler, greedy and merciless to his people; they are not the qualities of God.

When we begin to understand this, the handing over of talents is almost a perfect parallel the story of Antiochus. Wishing to further himself, the nobleman entrusts his money to three servants with the hopes that they will carry out his unjust business while he’s gone. Two of the men decide to accept the offer to take part in the unjust system, and the nobleman rewards them with money and friendship based on their profitability. But the third servant, similar to the youngest son, does nothing. He recognizes that the king is a wicked person and refuses to take part in his unjust system. Because of this, he is denied, suffers greatly, and is put to death for his insubordination.

Taken together, I see the message of these passages to be that the world and God have different expectations, and it is impossible at times to follow both. The world will offer us many things, fulfill many of our temporal needs, even make us very happy and comfortable, but sometimes it will require us to compromise our faith. It’s also a reminder that truly following God is not an easy task, and that even Jesus endured suffering because he challenged the evil of the world and sought to bring justice to all. But for those who follow in his footsteps and endure the trials of the world, there is hope for redemption and just judgment in the God’s Kingdom.

I offer this not as a condemnation of the common homily or the priests that give them, but rather as an alternate interpretation for prayer and discernment. Hopefully it is grounded in some truth and it may be helpful for my prayer and discernment process moving forward.

A Friendly Reminder

Found on a New York street between Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral, this statue of Francis is a microcosm of his life: remind those with great wealth and power to be humble before their God through simplicity and radical obedience.

One day, a migrant worker was traveling through a town when a Rabbi spotted him and started a conversation. “Who do you work for,” the Rabbi asked. The man replied, “I do not work for anyone. I just travel from town to town and try to make a living. What about you? Who do you work for?” Surprised, the Rabbi thought to himself, I’m clearly a Rabbi. I am in charge of the Temple, the law, and all of my people. How does he not know this? As he thought, he realized that none of these were sufficient answers to the question: Who do I work for? He realized at that point that he had been working for himself the whole time, and that he should have been working for God. He said to the man, “How would you like to work for me? All you have to do if follow me around when I’m in the Temple, enforcing the law, and leading my people, and remind me for whom I work in case I forget again.”

In the first session of our workshop entitled “The Future of Religious Life,” Seán Salmon, FMS, posed this story to us with a surprising message: as women and men religious, we must always play the role of the migrant worker, not the Rabbi. Through our radical expressions of poverty, chastity, and obedience, we must always remind the Church for whom it works, unafraid to upset the status quo of the hierarchy. He reminded us of the many reforms in the Church, and how it is often religious orders that bring the Church back down to earth; bring sinners back to an uninviting institution; and push the Church ahead when it is stuck in stagnation. The day that we become unable or unwilling to remind the Church of this detail, trading counter-culture for comfort, the Gospel for an institution, the spirit of the law for the letter of the law, is the day that the Church begins to forget.

For an introduction to a workshop, I can’t think of too many more motivating messages than that! The whole time I was thinking about Francis’ message to the very corrupt Church at the time, and the example he lived each day as a reminder. He didn’t call for a violent upheaval of the Church leaders or choose to leave it to start his own: he lived what he believed to be the truest expression of the Gospel, not caring whether or not it matched the lives of the holy men and women around him. This act of “Preaching the Gospel at all times, using words when necessary” (a quote that he did not actually say), inspired thousands of people, both clergy and lay, to give up their previous lives and live a life of great reform in the Church. It is this sort of life that each and every one of us hopes to exemplify, sending a friendly reminder to those who lead that the Church does not work for itself: it works for God. Let us never allow it forget that.

 

Finally, a Franciscan!

Discernment through the eyes of Francis allows us to identify the thing we seek to avoid, and compels us to embrace it.

Based on our experience with the religious world so far, it would appear that the Jesuits have a monopoly on spirituality, influencing (or tainting) the way in which almost every community prays; the Spiritual Exercises have become the norm for retreats and workshops, and it leaves us wondering sometimes, “What about Franciscan spirituality?”

Ask and you shall receive! In a more than refreshing change, 56 members of many different Franciscan orders met this week in Garrison, NY for a truly Franciscan experience. Looking exclusively through the eyes of Francis and Clare, Sister Clare D’Auria, OSF, spent the week leading us in a journey of discernment to a greater understanding of God, self, and community. This meant a strong focus on the Gospels (Francis’ rule), a theology focused on the Incarnation (God made flesh, importance of creation), and using the concrete and practical elements of our worldly experience as a connection to God (Eucharist, the Cross, manger).

Since none of these characteristics are all that specific, the spectrum of “true franciscanism” is quite wide. At this workshop, we had men and women wearing brown, tan, grey, and black habits, as well as some that didn’t own a habit; communities ranged from fully contemplative to non-stop active; individuals were politically conservative and liberal, liturgically traditional and charismatic, theologically orthodox and progressive; and their work included teaching, social work, coordination of liturgy, prayer, and manual labor (to name just a few).

And yet, there was a spirit that transcended all of these particularities, a charism and history that connected us all. Despite the wide range of possibilites within the Franciscan family, there is still a spirituality that connects us all, and separates us from the many others ou there. Being very new to Franciscan life, I found it to be wonderfully eye opening to see the many ways our great saint has inspired people throughout history, and to understand that there are many different, yet all connected, ways of knowing knowing God through Francis.

It was this last part that made the workshop for me: beginning to look at God through the eyes of Francis. Being so new to Franciscan spirituality, I can’t even pretend to be able to articulate what that means or even how my perspective changed. All I can say is that it connected in a way that other spiritualities haven’t in the past; there was a comfort, both spiritual and intellectual, that made me feel right at home. When I began to discern my life through his eyes, God became so much more apparent in my past as well as in the present. It’s an experience like this that leaves me thinking, “Finally, a Franciscan!”

To see the beauty of Graymoor, check out the updated shutterfly website.