Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

LOVE DEMANDS

She explained with all the patience she could muster that indeed she was going over there again.  She listened as her daughter told her that she would appreciate it if her mother would not associate with that type.  Some in the parish would be scandalized if were they to find out.  Others, such as her own children, would take her actions as insulting the memory of their brother.  As her daughter scolded she watched the second hand on the clock over the stove tick off the moments making this conversation seem interminable.

Finally she made her way to the back door, opened it and pushed the bell.

“Listen, Dear, there’s someone at the door,” she said.  “I appreciate the way you and your brothers feel, but this is something that I have to do.  Don’t be upset with me.  I’m sorry you feel the way you do.  I can’t help that.”  Her daughter tried to interrupt.  “No.  Now I have said all that I am going to say.  I’m going to hang up now.  Otherwise I’ll be late for my visit.  Maybe we can talk tomorrow.  Bye, Dear.  I love you.”  And she broke the connection.

With a sigh she put the receiver down.  She returned to her kitchen counter and took a last survey of the contents of the picnic basket.  Then she took the small bottle of white wine from the refrigerator and placed it among the other containers of food, closed the hamper and checked to be sure the latch was secure.  Then she glanced at her son’s picture, paused a moment, and smiled.  “Do you think Absalom will like what I have prepared?  I know his appetite isn’t what it used to be.”

She put on her jacket mindful of the autumn chill outside that was banishing the final remnants of summer, made a quick survey to be sure that all the switches were on off, put her arm through the hamper’s handles and picked up her car keys.  She pulled the door firmly behind her and checked the knob to be sure that it was locked.  She put the hamper on the back seat of the car with the seat belt around it to hold it in place.  She put both hands on the steering wheel, closed her eyes, pausing for a moment as she swallowed.  She turned the ignition key, put the car in reverse and backed down the driveway onto the street and then drove away.  “Please let the traffic be light.  I don’t need the tension of snarled cars and honking horns.  Please.”

She pushed the button by Absalom’s apartment number.  Several seconds passed before she heard the buzz that indicated the door was unlocked.  She entered and made her way to the elevator.  The lobby smelled of stale cigarettes and toilet disinfectant.  She pushed the button for the third floor. A ring accompanied the door’s sliding open and she made her way down the dark hall to the now familiar door.  It was ajar.  She pushed the door closed behind her and made her way into the dingy space, and waited a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim light.

In a moment briefer than anyone would notice she remembered the first time they had met and how revolted she had been.  She was being asked to accept something that she had always opposed.  From this vantage point she couldn’t remember when her feelings had changed, when anger had been replaced by tolerance, and the acceptance with genuine compassion, and compassion had become affection.

She felt his eyes on her as she crossed the room and put her basket on the chrome-legged kitchen table.  She straightened up, put her hands to the small of her back for a moment, and smiling, turned to greet her host.

He sat in the recliner near the gas fireplace.  She crossed to him and put her hands to the sides of his face and kissed his forehead.  Their initial exchanges were formulaic now and always included some mention of the fact that he was looking better today.  She always asked if he had put on weight since the last time she had seen him.

He laughed.  She took his hand and told him she would swear he had added a pound or two.  She took his hand, gently squeezed it, and kissed him on the cheek.  She remembered the first time she had done that and the queasy feeling in her stomach she had noticed as her lips touched his stubble.  Please, Lord, she had prayed, don’t let me be sick.

“May I?” she said, as she opened the drapes and the red autumnal light flooded the space.  She turned back and her eyes rested a moment on the picture of the two of them, her son and Absalom in sunnier, happier times.  The bond they had shared was obvious.

She knew it was difficult for him to talk because his throat was raw, so she settled into a patter of random thoughts to bring him up to date on the trivia of her life since their last visit.  And she always made it a point to express the best wishes from her husband and their children.

She placed the card table in front of him, spread a white linen cloth over it, and put down the two place settings with a napkin on the left of either plate on which she had ladled the salad and pieces of chicken with just a dollop of mashed and marshmallow laced sweet potatoes.  The portions were small because she new how limited would be his appetite.

Without asking his permission, she reached across the table and took both his hands in hers.  She said grace then and thanked God for so many things as she asked God to bless a litany of people and places in trouble.  Before asking god’s blessing on the food they were about to eat, she made a plea for a special blessing for her son.  She didn’t tell Absalom how delighted she was when she saw him make the sign of the cross at the end of her prayer.

“I brought wine,” she said.  “Would you like a little wine with dinner?”

They touched crystal glasses rim to rim and each took a sip.

“Thank you,” he whispered.  “Thank you for everything.”

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – November 27, 2011

 

Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7

I Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:33-37

Starting points often are nadirs.  Sometimes people have to hit the bottom before they find the courage to begin rebuilding their lives.  People who struggle with addictions seem to have to reach that point of helplessness before they come to understand that their recovery depends on finding the strength to surrender to the grace of the Higher Power and so begin living in freedom one day at a time.  Whether it is self or the world that is being considered, evil, the reality of sin, must be recognized before conversion and restoration can begin.  The saying that became a cliché from overuse has application as we listen to the Liturgy of the Word for the First Sunday of Advent.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  How do you want to live the rest of your life?  As you are right now?  Or is something prompting you to think that you are called to live your life in continual conversion and steadfastness of faith?

The question to pray about as this Church year begins is, where am I spiritually?  Is there a spiritual dimension to my existence?  What you will be pondering is the condition of your relationships – those with God, with those significant others in your life, and with yourself.  It is true for many and it might be true for you.  Their faith has been tested to the point that they wonder if they believe at all.  Do you understand that feeling?  Have you come through a health crisis?  Are you watching as someone you love loses the struggle with cancer or succumbs to dementia?  Perhaps you are among those whose fortunes have changed dramatically in the current downturn in the economy.  Wrestling with such behemoths and feeling yourself to be powerless, you might be wondering if you believe at all.

There don’t have to be great sins in your consciousness; but you might have to come to grips with the absence of any charitable deeds.  As followers of Christ, we are to be imitators of Christ even as we are commanded to love one another as we are loved.  You might be aware that you are not praying with the regularity that you used to pray.  You might be going to mass every Sunday, or you might not be that regular in practice.  When you are present with the Assembly, is anything happening?  Or, do you find your self wishing the hour to be over so that you can get on with what is really important?

The sense of barrenness can be exacerbated by the reality of strained or broken relationships with those closest to you.  That should not be surprising since Jesus linked the two great commandments making them one.  Love God with your entire being.  Love you neighbor as yourself.  The lack of either one affects the other.

If you do not feel loved by those closest to you – your spouse, your family, your neighbors, your brothers and sisters surrounding you in the pews – it is not a giant leap to that feeling of not being loved by God.  The same will be true if you are not doing your part in those important relationships.  Self-absorption closes God out too.  It’s hard to experience the Eucharist as transforming if you are not fully, actively, and consciously participating, if you are not committed to being the Eucharist’s co-celebrant in the exercise of your Baptismal Priesthood.  Or perhaps you are struggling because so little in the way the Liturgy is celebrated seems to be calling forth that Baptismal Priesthood, much less that you are a co-celebrant.  Do you hear the call to put the Eucharist you have celebrated into practice in the market place – to be bread broken and cup poured out?  For what purpose if love is dead?

Then there is the World community.  How long have we been at war?  While it is true that the troops will be out of Iraq by the end of December, there are still other arenas of conflict.  These wars have been going on so long that you can become numb to the horror that each day fills the nightly news.  It might even begin to sound reasonable that torture and the rescinding of basic constitutional rights should be the presumed adjunct of strife.

Does might make right?  There is ample evidence that the intrinsic worth of each human being is being wholesalely denied – be that through acts of violence toward those in the first ages of life or those in final days.  When capital punishment is inflicted our society is brought to the level of those who commit the basest of acts of violence.

Isaiah decries the conditions that surround him.  Horrified by the lapses of faith he witnesses, Isaiah wants God to intervene as God did in leading the Jews from Egypt’s slavery to the Desert’s freedom.  Maybe if the mountains shook and the waters parted again the people might come to their senses.  Isaiah wants God to do it again so that faith might revive.  We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.  There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us.  On the brink of despair, Isaiah remembers.  God can act even in the darkest of times.  O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Bluntly put, Isaiah tells God to have at us!

At the beginning of this Advent Season it is time to remember.  God has called us.  The Spirit has inspired us.  We have died to the old and former life and been reborn in Christ through Baptism.  That is our lived reality.  It is time to yield to Baptism’ grace.  Paul rejoices at the evidence that the Corinthians live in the faith that came to them through his preaching and the witness to Christ he bore them.  That is evident among them because they lack no spiritual gift as they wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, and it was God who called you to fellowship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  But then, we know that the Corinthians had their faults, too.  They were not a perfect community.  They had to be reminded about the basics of the faith, especially of the primacy of place Love had to play in their lives.  Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit and alone will survived when time has run its course.

So it is that we come to the gospel, the first reading of the Good News from Mark for this Liturgical Year.  What does Jesus challenge you and me to do?  Watch and be ready!  The journey of faith is made one day at a time and must be lived steadfastly.  More important, Christ has left the faithful, the Baptized, in charge.  They are the continuation of Christ’s presence.  We need to remember Christ’s words in his prayer to the Father from John’s Gospel: To them (the disciples) I have revealed your name, and I will continue to reveal it so that your love for me may live in them, and I amy live in them.  So it ought to be that the Word, seeing us in action will recognize Christ acting through us.  That is what Christ expects us to be doing until he comes again.

What is our starting point on this First Sunday of Advent?  It should be no surprise that the starting point is Love.  That should not lead us to being dewy eyed with pulsing romanticism.  The Love we are commanded to live in acknowledgment of our identity with Christ is harsh, even terrible, because it is all demanding and all consuming.  Its perfect expression is Christ’s pouring out of self in service to the shedding of the last drops of blood and water flowing from his side as he hung on the cross.  Like it or not, its perfect expression in us must be the same.

So, we come to the Table to do this in memory of Christ, that is, to recognize Christ present.  The Eucharistic action is one of formation and transformation.  We take and eat what has been blessed and broken for us that we might be transformed and sent to be that presence in the world until Christ comes again.  When?  In spite of recent proclamations of specific dates for the world as we know it to end, only God knows the day and the hour.  Christ says to you and me and to all: Be on guard!  That is, live in the mystery and stand in awe.  When will take care of itself – in due time.

In the mean time, may we be renewed in hope and in love.

Sincerely,

Didymus

MORE THAN MANY SPARROWS

The first email message was terse and to the point.  “If I wrote to you, would you have the time to answer me?”

I did not recognize the name of the sender but responded that I would do what I could and what time allowed.

The letters increased in length.  There was never more than one a week after the introductory note that told me the writer was a man and a student at a university.  He never told me about his family or even where he lived.  His messages consisted mostly of musings about life and his place in the world and about God.  He seemed to be a keen observer with a sympathetic heart.  Other people’s pain weighed him down.  He said he wished he could do something about the suffering he saw.  And he wondered if God noticed the pain of the little people.

That’s how our dialogue began.  I would respond to his notes by saying that some of his concerns were mine and that I felt a similar helplessness in the face of suffering that I observed.  I avowed a certainty that God did notice the little people.  I invited him to remember what Jesus said about the sparrows.  That should have been a comfort – to remember that even the least significant person is worth more than many sparrows.

He talked about his prayer life and the fact that sometimes he wondered if he was able to pray at all because he could never find words to express what he felt.  Sometimes, he said, he just sat there in silence hoping that God knew, what?  He wasn’t sure that his thoughts were that significant to warrant God’s having to take time to listen.  Nobody else seemed to have time for him.

Then it was loneliness that occupied his thoughts.  He had no friends.  Other than his parents, he said he had no “significant other’ in his life.  He used to try, but when the pain of rejection mounted he stopped trying to interject himself into others’ lives and contented himself with observing others and caring for them from afar.

What would it be like to be in love with someone, to know that another cared about what happened to him?  What would he do if he knew that someone wanted to share life with him?  What would it be like to share a bed with another and feel someone’s arms wrapped around him through the long hours of the night?

Even at church when he watched other people go up the aisle in the Communion Procession and he longed to join them, he felt isolated and alone because he couldn’t journey with them.

More and more my answers tried to assure him that he wasn’t alone, that God loved him and that surely there would be someone with whom he could enter into that loving relationship for which he longed.

His letters never acknowledged the encouragement I tried to offer, or that he gave credence to it.

His mother sent me a copy of his obituary.  She said she had found my name and address on his desk.  She forwarded the letter he had written to me just before his life ended.

“I am tired.  The struggle no longer seems worthwhile.  All my life I have been a prisoner in this twisted, twitching body.  It hurts when I see people wince when they hear the grunts I make or see the drool on my chin.  No one looks me in the face.  They talk over me or around me but never to me.

“I can no longer bear being faceless.  There is a terrible emptiness inside that now I think only God can fill.  I have begun to feel him there, way, way inside, silent and waiting.  To God I believe I am not pathetic or ugly.  God sees me that way I feel I am from the inside.  I believe that.

“I have always been in the way and an embarrassment to people.  Thank you for writing to me and making me feel like a real person with value.  You seemed to take my words seriously.  For that I am grateful.  I never told you what I was really like.  I never sent you a picture of myself.  I never wanted you to know for fear you would either pity me or stop writing.

“I never found words to pray with.  But God knows I love him and how I long to be free.  That’s all I could ever offer – my wordless love.

“Last night I dreamt I was normal.  I ran down a forest path that dipped and wound and seemed endless.  In an instant I was standing on the edge of a cliff and the ocean was below.  I knew that if I stretched out my arms I could fly like the eagles and soar towards the sun.  Then I awoke and nothing had changed.

“Thank you for being my friend even though we never met.  And now, will you find the words to pray for me?”