Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

A MOMENT OF GRACE

 

It was a surprise when, after a long silence, I received the email message from a friend.  Immediately I responded, telling him that I had some obligations to fulfill before I would be able to answer his letter.  Within seconds came back his reply: Barbra Streisand had it wrong.  It’s people needed by people who are the luckiest people in the world.

Talk about a dash of cold water in the face as a wakeup call.  I had been feeling put upon and was grumbling on the inside about these intrusions on my free time.  But, as my friend pointed out, these obligations were from people who needed what I could offer.

Then Sunday at mass, I listened to Paul remind the Corinthians that the Spirit is the source of the many gifts individuated among every member of their faith community.  That was another moment of grace that put a context around my friend’s note.  I sat in silence for some time when I returned home and then thanked the Spirit for the insight that I would like to share with you.  You may say this is obvious.  I would agree that it should be.  But sometimes we miss what is most obvious because we’ve heard the message before.  The trouble is that we fail to make the application to current circumstances.

These times are difficult for many of our brothers and sisters.  All of us can become discouraged by the barrage of negative news, as one horrible event follows another, seeming to convince us that there is no limit to the evils human kind can inflict on each other.  We can sink into a morass of despair and forget that there is also no limit to the good that can be shared in this community of the Body of Christ, the Church, and beyond to the community that is the human family.

It is a blessing to be needed as long as we remember that what is needed from us is gift.  I’m not the source of it.  I should not resent that fact that others have gifts that I do not.  What I should be doing is placing my gifts at the disposal of those in need.  And I should be encouraging others to share their gifts and not be threatened by the blessings that result.

That was the lesson that Paul taught the Corinthians.  Their community was being torn asunder because some gifts were seen by them to be more important and therefore signs of God’s special favor than were other gifts.  The gift most boasted about was that of tongues.  Obviously, they felt, to speak in tongues was the greatest of all gifts.  Those who spoke in tongues were the most important members of the community and should therefore lord it over the rest.

Not so fast, Paul said, in effect.  There are many gifts but one giver, the Spirit.  You will notice that whenever Paul lists the gifts, tongues comes at the bottom of the list.  Love is the greatest of the gifts.  The body has many parts and only functions well when each part is working.  The Body of the Church is Christ.  The Body works best when each gift is exercised for the good of the community and placed at the community’s, the Church’s disposal for the benefit of the church.

It seems to me that there is a wonderful example for us in our experience of the Eucharist.  Of course this proposal can also be the source of resentment and division in our faith community.  What if I envy you your gift and do not see the worth in my own?  What if I exercise the charism without actually having it?  You see where this can go and how understandable become the schisms in the Corinthian community.

What are we supposed to experience as we come together and gather around the Tables of Word and Eucharist?  I have to confess that my perspective is shaped from my experience of those Spirit filled days of renewal in the Church, the days following the Council of Vatican II.  Pope John XXIII had opened the windows to let in fresh air and help the Council Fathers be lead to an unfolding understanding of what it means to be Church.  Adjournamento.

The image of the first Pentecost comes to mind with that gathering of the church in the upper room when the violent wind blew through the place and fire danced over them.  Those gathered were transformed and ran out to tell the rest of the Good News that is Jesus dead and risen and the hope that is our in him.  All are called to partake in the Mystery and the Kingdom Jesus Christ brings.

Each of us has a responsibility.  Each has a part to play as we respond to the challenge to be fully, actively, and consciously participating in the Eucharist and in the life of the church.  Many of us were thrilled as those waves of realization washed over us.  None of us knew the full implications of change.  But we saw possibilities as we learned new ways to celebrate and participate, new ways to pray in common and in unity, new ways to minister in the broader community, ways that had been reserved for the clergy.   We began to experience the rush of the Spirit among us and the presence of the Risen One in our midst.  We were being awakened to the Priesthood of the Baptized, the gift that comes with that encounter with Christ in the Waters.  Here was the wonder of the imminence of our God that did not deny God’s transcendence.  The wonder? Each of us is a member of the Body.  Each of us is gifted.  Each of us is called the ministry in the church and beyond.

Of course there were those who soon came to resent the changes and who wanted to keep things the way they were.  So the call to renewal became a source of division just as the gifts showered by the Spirit among the Corinthians divided them.  We learn some lessons slowly, over and over again, with each new generation.

But I digress.  Enough has been said about the division.  My point is the gifts and the richness that results if those gifts are called forth.  If we stay in the realm of Liturgy for a moment, you will see what my point is.  Gifts that come from the Spirit are called charisms.  There are different charisms, different gifts but the same giver.  Different charisms but the same giver, the Spirit.  The Lector exercises a charism as s/he proclaims that Word in the midst of the Assembly.  But not every reader has that charism.  Eucharistic Ministry is a charism.  Not all who function in that capacity have that charism.  You’ll recognize the difference when you experience the Word proclaimed by one with the charism.  Preaching is a charism.  You sense the difference when one with the charism preaches.  Eucharistic Ministers ought not feel threatened by Ushers or Altar Servers.  Presiders ought not be threatened by Preachers.  And so on, through the various gifts of the Spirit.  Charisms cannot be legislated nor imposed.  They are gifts of the Spirit to be recognized and celebrated by the Church.  If we call forth those so blessed and gifted by the Spirit, how rich will be our celebrations and how strengthened we will be to continue on our journey of faith.

Which brings me back to the starting point and these difficult times with so many needs before us.  Paul knew there were many gifts but the same giver.  He said the same thing to us last Sunday through the living word that was the Second Reading.  There are many gifts among us, sufficient to meet all the needs of the community.  The gifts need to be recognized.  The gifts must be called forth and empowered for service.

The Church gathers to celebrate Eucharist and to be transformed.  Then, once the Meal is shared, the gifted are sent to continue the Presence in the world.  The gifted must respond to the Spirit and their being sent by placing those gifts at the service of the community. Remember when Jesus fed the 5000 with the few loaves and the couple of fish; remember how much was left over when all had been fed?  If we trust, that will continue to be our experience.  There will be plenty to meet the needs, with energy and giftedness left over to meet tomorrow’s needs, until Christ comes again.

Those who recognize their giftedness and experience the call and respond will know the truth of what my friend said to me.  People who are needed by people are the luckiest people in the world.

Those people are you.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – January 27, 2013

 

The Book of Nehemiah 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10

St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians 12:12-30

The holy Gospel according to Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

 

Does the first reading resonate with you?  Do you identify with the people?  Have you ever been moved either to tears or to great exultation as the proclamation of the Scriptures washes over you?  Such experiences ought to be the norm rather than the exception.  Scriptures are the living word, after all.  The Lord is present in the Word, just as Christ is present in the Eucharist and in the Assembly.  That encounter ought to thrill and continue our conversion.  That is what is happening to those men, women, and children old enough to understand that are assembled before Ezra, the priest.  And it will challenge those in the crowd gathered around Jesus in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry as he opens the scroll and reads from the Prophet Isaiah in today’s gospel.

Part of the intensity of experience for those assembled in the first reading rises out of their situation.  As was the case with those in last Sunday’s first reading, these are the people newly restored to Jerusalem following that period of living in exile and slavery during the Babylonian Captivity.  While in Babylon many had wandered from the Lord and gone after the gods of the Babylonians.  Now they have returned to the holy city destroyed that is in ruins.  The task before them is to rebuild.  Ezra, standing on a special platform and holding the scroll high so that all the people could see it, proclaimed from The Law, The Torah, from daybreak until midday.  I won’t even ask you how you think a reading of that length would go over today.  But then we probably we are not starved for the Word as those people were.  Or, we may not recognize that we are.

We tend to think of laws, even the Decalogue as repressive, curtailing our freedom.  Believe it or not, that was not the primary reaction of the Jews to the Law.  Hearing the Law proclaimed did give them an opportunity to examine their consciences and recognize how unfaithful to God they had been.  Hence, they bowed down and wept as they felt sorrow for their sins and a resurgence of faith in the One who led their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  They raised their hands high and shouted, Amen!  Amen!  Why?  Because the reading of the law gave them an intense experience of the Lord’s presence in their midst.  They were reminded that they were God’s people.  Even thought they had been unfaithful, God had remained faithful to them and once again had led them out of slavery and brought them home to Jerusalem.

Imagine the power of Ezra’s reading and the fervor with which he proclaimed the reading to that assembly.  The Spirit of God animated him and spoke through him and so touched the people in their vulnerability and strengthened them.  God has acted.  The people reacted and woke to belief.  To be similarly moved, perhaps we have to come before the Word similarly vulnerable, conscious that we are sinners, and so be awakened to the experience of God in our midst and be strengthened and renewed.

Pardon an aside here.  It is obvious that God gifted Ezra with the power to read the Word.  Today we would say that God gifted Ezra with the charism to be a Reader or Lector.  Notice, Ezra isn’t preaching.  He isn’t breaking open the Word, which is what preaching is supposed to do.  He is proclaiming the Law as it is written in the Torah.  Sometimes I find listening to the proclamation of the Word at mass a grim experience.  Some of those who stand up in the midst of the assembly and read from that platform designated for that purpose clearly do not have Ezra’s charism.  There is no enthusiasm in the reading.  Often words are mispronounced and the phrasing is pedestrian to poor.  Sometimes it is clear that the reader does not understand the reading or is reading without having prepared it prior to the proclaiming of it.

Paul, in the second reading from his first Letter to the Corinthians, is urging us to recognize that everybody does not receive the same gift.  There are different gifts but the same giver.  Having a gift does not raise a person above those who do not have the gift.  Rather, the charism is a call to share that gift in the midst of those other and differently gifted people.

Sensing an urge to take up a certain ministry is not a guarantee that that one has been so gifted.  There needs to be a discernment process done through prayer and reflection by which it becomes clear to which ministry the Spirit calls a person.  It is recognized that the Spirit is working in the person.  Not everyone is called to be a Lector.  Not everyone is called to Preach.  Not everyone has the charism to be an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  The same can be said regarding all the other ministries needed to be practiced in the parish.  But God provides in abundance.  In every parish there will be some called to each of the ministries so that all of the ministries can be exercised for the good of the parish.  Recognizing and empowering those gifts results in a healthy parish.  Where there is a ministerial need the Lord will provide so that the need can be met and the work of the Lord can be carried out.

The gospel for this Sunday is from Luke, as will be most of the gospel readings for this Liturgical Year.  Today’s pericope comes from two different chapters, the first and the fourth, combined to orient us in the journey we are beginning with Luke.  Notice that addresses the Gospel to Theophilus.  Some say there was someone of significance by that name in Luke’s community, a wealthy person to whom Luke would address both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  But most commentators take their cue from the name’s translation and see that both books are addressed to One Who Loves God, that is, to you and to me.  Take your pick.  I won’t even tell you which interpretation I prefer.  Luke explains to the readers also that he is a thorough researcher, has read other accounts, talked to eyewitnesses, and now is ready to write his own sequence of the events that evidence our salvation.

We witness Jesus’ return.  From where?  From the period of temptations in the desert.  Like his ancestors Jesus has experienced a period of formation in the desert, a period of temptations to go against God’s will for him and to build up a kingdom of wealth and power for himself.  Having triumphed in that conflict, now the Spirit who led him into the desert now leads him back to Galilee where his reputation is swelling rapidly among the people who marvel at his words and his deeds.  Then he comes to Nazareth, the town where he grew up, and he goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath and in the midst of these people who have known him from his childhood, he reads to them from the prophet Isaiah.  This is the link to the first read.  In Jesus’ proclamation, Isaiah speaks as one animated by and anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, as one sent to bring good news to the poor, to set captives free, to restore sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  When Jesus finishes the reading, he closes the scroll and says to all in his hearing, Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.  This is another Epiphany moment.  The reading is a composite sketch of Jesus’ ministry.  All of those aspects are meant to remind the people of God’s undying and unconditional love for them.  Jesus brings God’s love to the little ones, to the off scouring of society, so that they might know their favor with God and that they are destined to live with God forever.  The hungry will be fed.  The little ones and the oppressed will be lifted up and freed.  Wars will end.

Jesus says that all this will happen in, with, and through him, beginning today.  That’s thrilling, isn’t it?

What is a thumbnail sketch of Jesus’ ministry is also an outline of the ministry of the Church.  The work Jesus begins is not finished yet.  There are still the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed.  There are still those who need to be convinced they are people of worth regardless of their situation.  Jesus’ primary focus is always on those insignificant members of society and those deemed sinners or unclean, those to be shunned.  The Church is healthiest and most faithful to Jesus’ ministry when it is clear that these same classes are of primary concern for the Church.  The Gospel is most strongly proclaimed when it is clear that the Church is about forgiving, restoring, and welcoming home again.  Those in the Church must work tirelessly for the liberty and justice of all people and to bring them peace.

Just as the Spirit led Jesus and inspired his ministry, so does the Spirit move in the Church today inspiring members to take up those various responsibilities, those aspects of the Cross, so that Jesus’ ministry can continue.  What is necessary is prayer and discernment to recognize the Spirit’s movement and then to allow the Spirit to move so that there will be the courage to act.  Of course the Church must support those who follow the Spirit’s lead, even if they seem to be moving into new and uncharted territories, even if walls of convention are threatened.

The Church gathers for the Liturgy of the Word.  Its Spirit-inspired proclamation touches the hearers’ hearts.  The Spirit-inspired preaching will nourish those gathered and transition them to the Liturgy of the Eucharist where the Sacrament will transform them as they celebrate and share in the meal.  Then they will be sent to do what Jesus did, proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

The time of fulfillment is now.

Sincerely,

Didymus

LET’S MAKE A DIFFERENCE

It’s easy to feel discouraged in the midst of all the negative stories that occupy the evening news.  I’m sure I am not the only one wondering if I’ve heard the worst story possible.  Think of the slaughter in Newtown, for example.  Then there are the horrific war stories and the mass sufferings of innocents as weapons of mass destruction are unleashed on them.  Job comes to mind and his cry to the heavens: How long, O God?

If the negative news happens to coincide with personal difficulties you are experiencing in your personal life, it would not be difficult to understand your experiencing doubts of faith and feelings of abandonment by God.  Even the strongest among us need positive signs to bolster us from time to time.

I was somewhere in that kind of quagmire when two such positive signs nearly blew me away – as they say.  First, in amazement I watched an interview with a young man from Australia who has become an evangelist and motivational speaker of some popularity.  He was born without arms or legs.  In his early years, having experienced bullying, he decided he wanted to die.  He asked his father to leave him alone as he bathed.  When his father left the bathroom, the boy let himself slide underwater.  He rolled over with the intention of drowning himself.  But grace intervened as he thought of the pain his suicide would cause his parents and sibling.  He banished thoughts of suicide from his mind from that point onward.  He began to see the positives, many of them rooted in his faith in God.

Now as an adult, married and an expectant parent, he is a motivational speaker and author.  He has accomplished many things that most would think impossible for someone as disabled as he is.  He golfs.  He surfboards. He swims.  He loves life.  And God.  He laughed as he said he keeps a pair of shoes in his closet just in case God has that kind of miracle in mind for him.  He speaks to large groups and tells them of God’s love for them and the wonderful things God has in mind for them.  His audiences weep with recognition and laugh at his humor and find reason to hope again.  If you are interested, look up Nick Vujicic.  You’ll be inspired, too, I’ll bet.

Watching Nick’s story was like a splash of cold water in the face.  I was flushed out of a stupor, so to speak, and decided that, as Nick does, I had to recognize the blessings in the present situation.  What I concluded is that whatever negative experiences we endure, it isn’t that God authored them, or sent them to afflict us.  Rather, in accepting them, they become transformative and grace-filled.  In the depths we may cry out, as in the midst of a dark night.  God is there to lift us up and embrace us in love.  Stripped of everything we thought we could not live without, we find life and meaning and the reason to hope again.  I can’t tell you the reasoning process I went through to come to that conclusion.  The insight came to me in a moment.  I laughed as I realized that I am free and able to let go and know that it is the Lord who lifts me up and sustains me.

There was one thing more I had to do as this grace enveloped me.  Two that I know of.  I had to let go of a lot of negative garbage that I had been towing for several years.  If you saw the great movie, The Mission, you will have an image of what I had to do as I severed the cord and let the garbage that weighed me down sink into the depths.  And once I had let go, I had to forgive because resentments were part of that garbage.  So were the resentments.  I let go of them and they, too, sank into oblivion.  In a moment I wondered if the next step were possible.  Grace intervened and I was able to admit that I loved them, and wanted them to know of God’s love for them.

Now I have a new understanding of freedom.  And peace.

I said I experienced two positive signs.  Here’s the second.  I wrote to a friend describing the transforming moment above.  He was kind enough to congratulate me on the grace moment before he challenged me to do something with the grace.  He reminded me that we are not to cling to grace but to share the fruits of grace with others.  Then he reminded me that there are a lot of people who are struggling in similar quagmires to the one that had threatened to drown me.  What do you think would happen if you made it a purpose of each day to let one person know that s/he mattered to you and that God loved her or him?  You could make quite a difference in 30 days.  And when I asked for clarification regarding the 30 days, he said, just try it for 30 days, one person a day, and see how you feel in a month’s time.

Today is day one.  I’m committed to keeping the challenge for a month.  I might not stop there.  We’ll see.  I’ll let you know.

This probably sounds like the stuff of a New Year’s resolution.  It’s not that far into 2013 to qualify for that.  Still, grace comes at different times if we are open to it.  The insights are always transformative if we are willing to go through whatever dark night necessary to experience the dawn.  With my resolves to let go of the garbage and to pass on the message of God’s love to others, I realize that I have to let go of negativity and live in the positive.  I have to count the blessings in my life and recognize the gifts that are mine.  I can’t envy other people’s gifts.  The Spirit gifts each one of us with different gifts.  Recognizing our own giftedness and then encouraging others in theirs, we come to see that whatever challenges are present in our communities; the communities have to gifts to meet and overcome them.  That is how Christ works in the Church that is the Body of Christ.  Together we can banish the darkness and welcome the dawn.

Here’s an idea.  If you agree with me and you feel a nudge of grace, pass the idea on to another, to at least one person a day.  We might make quite a difference in a month’s time.

Finally, to you, Reader, I say: Never forget that you are beloved of God.  Know that I thank God for you and pray for you each day.  No, that wasn’t the final thought.  This is.  Always remember that when we gather for Eucharist, wherever we are, the Eucharist transforms and unites us in Christ.  And united, we are sent to continue Christ’s presence wherever we go and through whatever we do.

With that, I’ll say Amen for now.  Until next time,

Sincerely,

Didymus