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The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B July 30, 2006

2Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15

Dear Jesus,

It is not easy to believe. Somehow, I had come to think that once I started following you, convinced that you are the Lord, the difficult part was over. The leap of faith had been made. The joy of experiencing your invitation to follow me made it seem possible, even a joy, to turn away from all that was and become a new creation in you. I remember the day I was baptized and the elation I felt, convinced as I was that sin would never be part of my life again. That was the naiveté of an eight-year-old to be honed to a sharpened acuity by the time I was nine. It is easy to boast in the throes of first fervor. But to do so is to forget that even to believe requires an empowering beyond one’s own strengths and capabilities. Didn’t Paul say that no one can say you are Lord except in the Holy Spirit? Yet you always challenge with great expectations. It’s true, isn’t it? You never ask the impossible but command what can be done only in, with, and through you.

I think back on those early days of being with you on the way. How foolish I was to have thought that your invitation would result in something just for me, a relationship that was solely with you with no implications for anyone else, a solitary walk with you. I should have paid closer attention to Paul who challenged believers to live their call practically with humility, gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love. In the urging there is a warning. To follow you will always entail emptying one’s self and living with the vulnerability that you exhibited with the shedding of the last drop of your blood. It’s true, isn’t it? For you, loving means pouring out self in service. Relationships would provide the fine detail of the degree of one’s faith in you. And the willingness to be vulnerable.

Your question reverberates in my head: Where can we buy enough food for them to eat? I begin to think that you ask that question over and over again and with adaptation, in the face of every situation of want people suffer. If I believe in you, I am forced to recognize you in your suffering little ones. Sometimes, I want to plug my ears and shut my eyes and turn away. The suffering is palpable and of titanic proportions. Famine. War. HIV/AIDS. The list is endless and the numbers of those affected nearly infinite. Do you really expect me to respond to global suffering? What will the paltry amount in my possession do to alleviate the sufferings of so many?

There is another din that competes with your challenge. I live in a wealthy country and am part of a stratum of society that knows comparative ease and the comfort of material goods. Surely I am not wealthy. I am grateful and see what I have as a sign of God’s favor. I pray begging God to bring these same comforts to the suffering masses. What more can I do? I am only one person after all!

As I wrote those last lines, I felt myself cringe. I can see you looking at me. Is that pity in your eyes? What does that hint of a smile mean other than your saying that I still have a lot to learn? But then I want to ask you, “If I understand you correctly and seek to respond as I think you dare me to, what will be left of me?”

Now as I write I think I can hear you asking me, Do you even begin to understand what Eucharist is about? Do you understand what Eucharist means, what your participation in it calls you to do and to be?

You took the little that was proffered, blest it, broke it, and distributed it to the hungry throng. The point is you became the source of plenty, the sign of God’s generous love visited upon the people in the age of fulfillment. You used the little bit and made it more than enough. The action of Eucharist is taking, breaking and distributing. If I dare to gather around the Table, if I dare to approach in the procession of my brothers and sisters in the faith to be fed, I cannot think that this that I receive is something just for me empowering a relationship between just the two of us. You command me to live this action. If I take and eat, I must allow myself to be taken and eaten. It’s as simple as that. Simple? That’s an odd word to use at a time like this. Even as I struggle I yield. And I understand that just as I am commanded to recognize you in those who suffer so am I to recognize your presence in the breaking and distributing. You are in the action of Eucharist.

Can I go to where I think this line of reasoning is leading me? How can I live with that degree of vulnerability? Can I be bread broken? Can I be cup poured out? Or better put, can I enter into your dying and rising, to live solely for you, pouring out myself for others that I might live in you?

Please be patient with me. I know that if I strike out on this journey I can become the laughingstock. Others can take advantage of me making me a bigger fool than even I appear to be. But that is what happened to you, isn’t it? And it was only on those terms that you would accept followers. You fled if people saw you as a source of wealth and security. You accepted only those who came to you willing to take on your poverty and vulnerability so that you can be seen as their truth and life. It’s true, isn’t it? Following you on the way will always mean being on the cross with you.

And then I think about the massive problems and wonder how the world would change if those who have dared to share the little they have with those who do not. What if we were willing to be bread broken and cup poured out, to bear with one another with love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit?

Please be patient with me as I struggle to understand and understanding, wonder how to put this into practice.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time B: July 23, 2006

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-18, Mark 6:30-34

Dear Jesus.

Does anyone realize in the beginning how totally and radically other your call is? In the beginning when one fantasizes about what life lived in union with you will be like, the idea of being sent to be your presence to others who need to experience the love of God that comes through you can be thrilling. An adventure begins. It is natural to dream about all the things one will do through and for you. The energy will be inexhaustible. I remember being so caught up in the work that I knew you would understand if I didn’t have time to directly communicate with you. The work would be our conversation.

It never stopped, the needs and demands of those searching. Sometimes, presence was all that was necessary. Other times, hands-on work was required: preaching, teaching, and ministering. At the end of a day, exhaustion would leave just enough energy to flop into bed with the worry whether I would wake for the early demands of tomorrow. When I was young, I needed less time for recovery. Time went on and then it was the exhaustion that remained, creeping in gradually, stealthily and taking up residence unawares. Then there wasn’t a perceptible difference between the way I felt going to bed and the way I felt pulling myself out before dawn’s light to begin again. And it was all done for you.

Then one day, a friend said, “I don’t see joy in your eyes.” With a shrug, I tapped my chest and said, “It’s in my heart where you can’t see it.” “Maybe,” he said. Was that your voice I heard? And I wondered. How could anyone expect joy to endure all these years? Routine sustained me through familiar tasks. Did I resort to formulas? Were they twice told tales that came to my lips, covering situations? What had worked in the past would continue to work today. Years ago, I had decided not to keep a file of homilies lest my preaching become stale. But joy? Where had joy gone? When did it die?

It was all about ministry, wasn’t it? When you invited me to walk behind you and learn what you did, to learn what meek meant, and humility, I saw service, tireless service that said, “This is how God loves you.” If I were to learn from you, that’s what I had to learn. Each time I thought this person or that group would be enough to occupy my time and concern, you had a way of pointing to the horizon challenging me to see the vastness. You pointed to distant crowds and other continents without ever asking me how I would respond. And if ever I thought it was about me, you had a way of nudging me into remembrance. How many times when we gathered at the Table and broke the bread did I see those crowds and distant continents and wonder even as I adored?

The other evening, I watched the sun set. Do you know that I became impatient as I watched and kept checking my watch to be sure I wouldn’t be late for my next appointment? How dare I hurry a sunset? Why couldn’t I pause and bask in the moment washed in the red-fused light of approaching night? I stayed as long as I dared. And as I sat behind the wheel in my car, I looked back at the mountains silhouetted against the now purple sky and I could not go on. Tears welled. Where are you if not in the sunset? I knew I would find you in the person waiting on my call. But I am losing my ability to breathe you in during those surprise moments of encounter when light glints from a wave breaking on the shore. I used to thrill when I caught sight of spring’s first butterfly or caught a glimpse of a hummingbird suspended before the throat of honeysuckle and remembered Easter. I don’t remember noticing either this year.

Will you help me, please? There is a hollow inside like a well’s mouth gaping. There is nothing to draw upon. I know what aridity means.

Do I have to dwell in that aridity? Is time in the desert the only way to refresh our bond and remember what started me on this journey with you so long ago? I need to rest with you not to escape the crowds, not to forget the other continents, but to remember them in you.

As I write this, I am convinced that the well will fill again. The life-giving water you promise will flow again. And I will find the way to lift up those crowds and continents with joy renewed.

How long will it take?

Sincerely,

Didymus

The 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time-B: July 16, 2006

Amos 7:12-15
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

Dear Jesus,

Would it have been better that day if, instead of stopping to listen, I had passed you by and continued with my purpose? That’s a silly question, isn’t it? How could I have done otherwise? Sometimes, I fantasize and wonder where I would be today had we never met. Would those adolescent dreams have continued to motivate me and sustain me as one by one they were realized? Who would I be today if I had not paused and wondered if your words were meant for me?

Those initial days were spectacular. I had never experienced anything that equaled the joy I felt in your company, anything like the love that formed the bond between us. I would have been content to loll in the wash of affection and let the rest of the world pass by. But you would not let that be. You let me loll long enough for the hook to be set as it were for me to realize that I could have no life without you when you began to nudge me from the nest and inform me that what you had given me I was not meant to keep for myself. If the relationship was just the two of us it would wither and die. Relationship with you means living your life, walking in the same confidence and vulnerability that come from knowing you are loved and relying on nothing but the beloved. And being sent to bring that relationship to others.

Do you remember how I argued with you about being ready? I thought you should have taught some skills and techniques that would better equip me to meet the challenges of today’s tastes. These are times in which money, prestige, youth, power, and success dazzle. It is all about dominating and getting to the top and having the bling as tangible evidence of making it. What were the tangibles that I could offer that would entice others to take up the challenge of following you? There had to be a way to water down the giving up of everything, the embracing of poverty that you prescribe as being necessary if one is going to be your disciple. Then there is the matter of the Cross that you say one has to take up every day if one is to follow you. Where’s the attraction in that?

At least you agree that it is not good for humankind to be alone and send out those ambassadors of your cause in twos the bond of their relationship reflecting each one’s intimacy with you. Would it not have been better, though, if the two had also been equipped with up-to-date technology, sounds, lights, the glitz that becomes addictive to audiences seeking ever higher thrills? What is going to make people want to come back for more? How are we going to fascinate them long enough for us to set the hook? It’s not about us, is it? It is not about me. It is about you. You are the message and there is only one way when it comes to following you.

Service, love, pouring out of self in imitation of you, that is what those you send out must do and then step aside and let you do the rest. That is what I have to remember. It is all gift. You seized me not because there was anything irresistible about me but because you chose to love me in God as one who is created in God’s own image. When I cringed and hesitated to respond to your invitation you proclaimed forgiveness. That was even before I got around to being sorry. The Blood of forgiveness washed over me and gave me a share in your own destiny, to be the beloved of God in you. That is where I wanted to weep, to wallow, and to remain. You said, “Go.”

So, here I am these many years later, wondering. What do I have to show for the years? How many have I won to the cause? I can think of so many others more successful than I. They have great technique and mesmerizing voices that hold large assemblies spellbound. They can count converts in the thousands and point to great edifices erected to stand in testament to their efforts. Some even bear their names. But I can’t do that, not any of those claims are mine.

So I wonder about your promise of strengths that would go with me if I relied only on you. I did that. I gave you my all. But I doubt any demons fled at my voice. Were any healed by my touch? Will anyone remember?

Wait! I have to stop. You know my intentions. You know my desire to love and serve you and to bring others to you. You are the only one who knows if I was effective at all. Please tell me that at least my efforts contributed to others’ successes. Tell me that my service meant something. Please, tell me. Or do I have to trust and wait for the last day?

Sincerely,

Didymus