Archive for November, 2015|Monthly archive page

I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE

 

Dear Jesus,

How does God’s forgiveness through you work?  I’ve tried to come up with another way of asking the question, but cannot.  There is something about the way you seem to express that forgiveness that bothers me.  It seems too freely given for me to be sure that the person forgiven is truly sorry for what was done and therefore will change and really repent.  After all, repentance means being sorry for one’s sins with the intention of not repeating them.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m comforted by the fact that often when I have come to you, sorry for what I have done, I have gone away with a sense of joy that you mean what you say and that I am forgiven.  But I wonder at times if that isn’t too easy.  Shouldn’t there be conditions on the forgiving?  Without those conditions, the forgiveness can become a burden to be lived up to because it has come too soon and to easily.

Guilt is always heavy and can paralyze.  Do you remember the time that I wandered away from you and started living as if we were not friends?  Nothing serious happened, as I think of that time now.  It wasn’t like a divorce that severed our relationship.  I just drifted off in my own direction and stopped praying.  I remember the first night that I had gone to bed and then suddenly realized that I hadn’t taken time that day to pray.  For a moment I thought about putting off my sleep, getting out of bed and taking time to pray.  Then, as quickly, I decided that tomorrow would do, and I slept.

The next day went by in the same fashion as the day before and concluded the say way with the same intention.  On the morning of the fourth day, while I was in the shower, I realized that it didn’t bother me any more that I wasn’t praying.  Then Sunday came and I decided that there were more important things for me to do than take the hour to gather with others of the baptized to hear the Word and to renew your dying and rising.  That would be the first time I missed Mass.  I wanted to spend time at the beach that day and thought that I would make up for missing Mass by taking time to ponder you in the waves that crashed on the rock and in the gulls that circled and cried as they rode the sea breezes.

That evening, as I rinsed the toothpaste from my mouth, I looked into the mirror and thought I would get to Mass during the week to make up for my lapse.  That didn’t happen.

You must remember that I was brought to you when I was very young.  There is not a time in my life when you were not a part of it.  Not to make excuses, but when I wandered, I thought it was something that I needed to do for myself.  I was tired of saying “No” to myself and of living differently from all those who did not feel the weight of the same obligations that I had.

How long did that time of drifting go on?  My life seemed very full, first with studies and then with work.  Days, then weeks went by, then months and years.  One evening I was drinking wine after a supper.  There weren’t many others in the restaurant.  I gazed into my glass and thought how hard it was to be alone.  Quiet time became a burden.  Thoughts surfaced that I did not want to entertain.  If I let my guard down, I would find myself reflecting on the old days and our relationship; but the experience was like looking through a family album filled with now distant and fading images of times past.  Nostalgia is bittersweet and quietly unsettling.  It is odd how a cluttered room imprisons and gives a sense of impotency.

In the end it was a friend’s simple statement, unsought and unmerited, that provoked the encounter that occasions this letter.  We walked together, my friend and I, on a bright and sunny autumn afternoon.  The green leaves had begun to yield to ambers and reds.  A bite in the breeze encouraged me to plunge my hands into my jacket pockets and shiver as we strolled.  Anyone observing us could see that I was closed in on myself, scarcely present to the friend that kept pace at my side.  When had I stopped enjoying the time and begun to endure the walk and my friend?

After a prolonged silence that used to be a hallmark of the comfort and depth of our friendship, but now was awkward and oppressive, he said, “Don’t forget, the Lord loves you.  And I’m praying for you.”

I stopped.  He continued on a pace or two and then turned back to take in my stunned visage.  The temptation was to rage at his presumption.  How did he know of my pain, of the dull ache of an emptiness that I had been struggling to deny?  Like a slap in the face or a splash of iced water, it struck me in that instant that I had to admit that I was hurting.  The tears welled and then flowed.  I turned and looked out into the expanse so that others might walk by and not notice my misery.  My friend came to my side and silently we both gazed t the incoming tide.  Being the good friend that he was, he waited patiently and said nothing.

Then, for just a moment, I thought it was you as he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It will be fine now.”  It?  What it?  I shuddered and knew that he was right.

That was you, wasn’t it?  Because in a moment, without transition, I knew what forgiveness meant.  I knew I needed to be forgiven.  I felt powerless to ask for it.  I knew you had granted it, unbidden as it was.

Should it be that easy?  How did you know that I would change?  Why hadn’t you made me prove my sorrow and promise to change my ways first, holding our reconciliation in abeyance until I had proven worthy of your gift?

Is that how God acts?  Is God’s love so foolish?  You seem to say so.  And I am amazed.

You know now that my repentance didn’t stop there.  Soon I became aware of another grace you set to work in me.  Was it your gift of the Spirit that prompted me to recognize my need for a reconciliation that went beyond you and included those others in whom you lie and with whom I had not gathered at your table for a long, long time, those who are your body, the Church?

A few evenings later, I gathered in the church with others like myself seeking reconciliation.  I looked about and drank in the faces of people, some familiar, and some strangers.  Like me, they seemed burdened, but also encouraged by the presence of others on the same mission.  It was then that it occurred to me that there is no such thing as a private sin, a sin that affects only the one that commits it.  We are a communal people united in you through Baptism.  Anyone’s sin weakens the rest of the Assembly, just as each one’s desire to die to sin and live more fully in you strengthens the rest.  Our reconciliation is communal, too.

That Sunday I returned to the Table.  I was aware that some of those who gathered with me had been with me the evening of reconciliation.  Now that reconciliation was about to be consummated in the Eucharist we were celebrating and the meal we would share.

It was good to be home again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C – November 29, 2015

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16

A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

What is your sate of mind as we begin this new Liturgical Year?  Do the events reported on the nightly news challenge your faith?  Wars seem to go on and on, with death tolls mounting.  Whose heart does not ache seeing the mounting tide of refugees fleeing their devastated homeland in search of relief and security?  Then there are the stories of domestic violence and gang violence.  As you sit under the Word this Sunday, what is the message you yearn to hear?

I asked a friend that question the other day.  The answer I got?  Just let me hear that it’s going to get better, that these terrible times will end.  Remember what the word Gospel means.  Good news.  This year we will hear the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ as it comes to us from Luke.  Each time we stand for the proclamation, we stand to let the Good News wash over us as we witness to the presence of Christ in the Word.  Our desire is that the Word will impact our ongoing conversion and our continuing transformation into the Body of Christ, i.e., the Church that is the People of God.  In that context and influenced by the Spirit, even difficult Scriptures become Good News because of the hope they engender.

As we enter into the Season of Advent, it is important to remember that there are two comings the season promises: the birth of Christ, and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.  The renewal of the first strengthens our hope for the second.  What is important for us as we journey through Advent is a sense of longing.  We long for the rebirth of Christ in our lives; we long for Christ’s return in glory when all that is promised will be fulfilled.

So, enter into the silence.  Sit with the Word.  Let your heart be open.  Listen.

We ought to be able to hear the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah.  Perhaps a better phrase would be to resonate with.  The times during which the Prophet proclaimed were desperate.  Four centuries after the era of King David, Jerusalem was in shambles and the Babylonians enslaved the Jews.  The people were enshrouded in the darkness of despair, convinced the terrible times would never end.  Would Jerusalem ever be restored?  There are not a few people proclaiming similar messages of despair in our own times.  Have you noticed how popular apocalyptic stories are these days?

Jeremiah says to the troubled and nearly broken people: The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the House of Israel and to Judah.  Remember that the Lord promised that David’s reign would last forever.  The times seemed to say that there was no way that promise could be realized.  What physical evidence could the people seize upon to support their hope in that promise?  I will raise up for David a just shoot…in those days Judah shall be safe.  The prophecy serves to strengthen the people so that they can remain faithful to the One who chose them to be a people peculiarly God’s own and to believe that God will never abandon them.

We see the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus as the Just Shoot rising up from the stump of David’s family tree, the Messiah, the one who is sent to bring Good News, the one who is our hope and our salvation.  Even as the prophecy reverberates in our consciousness, we listen to the Gospel.

Jesus speaks to us from those final days before his Passion, those final days before his disciples will witness the greatest test to their faith in him.  Jesus warns that the apocalyptic times will be filled with dreadful signs in the heavens and disastrous natural events on earth that will terrify even the strongest.  People will die of fright before the roaring wind and rushing waves.  There is no mention of earthquakes, but they might happen, too.  The challenge for disciples, for those who walk with Jesus and believe in him, is to be different from the rest of people and to stand tall in the face of all this turmoil, suffering and even death.  How?  Because we recognize in those dreadful signs that our redemption is at hand.  Did you hear Jesus say that that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth?  How can this Gospel be Good News?  Because even in the face of the worst that can happen, Jesus remains our hope and our deliverance.

In these times that are so difficult for so many, we need to hear Paul’s words first addressed to the Church at Thessalonica.  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.  Paul urges them and us to live what we have become through Baptism, to be Christ’s other self and do what Jesus did.  It is all about love, love that binds the community together and reaches out even to those who are not part of the community.  Imitate Christ.  Be a people whose lives give evidence to the fact that we believe, that our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ, that like him, we are willing to pour out our lives in service so that even the least will feel the embrace of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

These times, it seems to me, are singularly blessed because of the preaching and actions of Pope Francis.  He proclaims the universality of God’s love, even for atheists.  God loves those others would shun and condemn.  You know who they are.  We must work together to be sure that the parish does proclaim that all are welcome here.  Two operative words: All and Welcome.  There are not a few who are vociferous in their condemnation of what Pope Francis is doing to the Church.  Of course there were those who said the same thing about Vatican Council II.

The Eucharist must be at the center of our faith lives.  Our lives should revolve around the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.  We come together at the Table of the Word to be transformed by the proclamation.  Wearied by the labors of the past week, we gather at the Table of the Bread to be transformed by the Eucharist we celebrate in the renewing of Christ’s dying and rising.  The Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ to be sent out for another week to be that presence in the market place.  Just as the Bread was broken and the Cup poured out so that we could share the Meal, so must we be broken and poured out until all are fed and have drunk.

Perhaps this Advent it is important for us to make the operative challenge for us to be in the word all.  Again, there is no shortage of those sewing the seeds of judgmentalism, fundamentalism and division.  In the Church, there are those telling others they are unworthy to approach the Table.  That seems to carry with it the judgment of those being sinners and therefore condemned.  Are we forgetting that we are all sinners and that our forgiveness is in, with, and through Christ?  Jesus did warn that what we sow we would reap.  What does that say about sowing the seeds of judgment and condemnation?

These are dark days.  The Advent Season for us in the Northern Hemisphere happens as the daylight hours are the fewest.  Maybe this year we should focus on the darkness and imagine what our lives would be like without our faith.  What would it be like to be still in our sins?  When the darkness threatens to envelop us, then we remember the Light whose coming we will celebrate this Christmas.  Jesus is our hope as he comes with a love that is universal and unconditional.  His table fellowship proclaimed that message.  So should ours.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FACE IN THE MIRROR

 

Dear Jesus,

Over the years I have learned to be careful when I breathe a sigh of relief when reading some you said and quickly conclude that what you say applies to others and not to me.

Right now I am feeling fairly confident that I don’t have any of those attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees, attitudes that you so clearly denounce.  I am just a humble guy who doesn’t even wear phylacteries or tassels.  Well, sometimes I used to get deferential treatment when I was invited out to dinner and I wore my clerical garb.  But surely I don’t have an attitude that would suggest the expectation of that kind of treatment.

Reflecting on where I am and on what I have, I always remember to give thanks to God when I pray.  Now and then I give some of what I have to the poor.  You might say I had a degree of authority, but I hope no one would ever have said that I lorded it over anyone.  I always remember to be thankful to God’s providence for what I was able to achieve.

Writing these words, I begin to feel that old unease that creeps in whenever I allow myself to think I am doing a good job.  I may think of the job as being well done until I compare what I did to what you do.  I always fall short.

My name, Didymus, means twin.  But whose twin am I?  My prayer, of course, is that someday I could be like you, enough to be your twin. If I could look into the mirror and see your face, then I would be at peace.

I was blessed to have been born into comparative security.  I’ve never thought of myself as wealthy, but I am comfortable as a citizen of a First World country.  But I hasten to add that I am no more comfortable than the people with whom I associate.  I am not exactly class conscious, other than when I feel a twinge of envy of those who have a lot of disposable income.  Not to be redundant, but I do try to thank God that I am not as poor as some people I have heard about.  Thank God, I have a place of warmth and shelter.

I am grateful that I have a beautiful place to go to and in which to gather with my friends to pray.  We always remember to pray for the poor.  Sometimes we contribute to collections for their needs.  Of course we don’t expect them to gather with us where we are.  They would be uncomfortable among us and would probably be self-conscious of their difference from us.  Some have said that worship spaces and gatherings like ours give others something to aspire for.  All the more reason for us to support places where they gather, don’t you think?

Please tell me you don’t expect more than this.  Because, if you do, a lot more people are going to leave you for someone or something with more reasonable expectations.  Do you realize how many more influential people would be willing to follow you if you promised prosperity?  Do you know how many people would be delighted to hear that God wills us to be wealthy?  That is the only reason I wear those splendid new brocaded vestments and lacey albs.  It’s meant to be a sign.

I wish you could do something now to ease my anxieties.  It would be comforting to hear that I am doing just fine.  I am serious about wanting to be your disciple among a people exercising discipleship.  My trouble is always with the practical application of your teachings.  What can I do about this?

Am I heading down a slippery slope if I allow myself to wonder what it would mean to actually be a servant of the rest, of those poor ones who keep themselves at arms length and gather in places where they are not so confronted by their powerlessness?  What would I have to do to make them feel included?  If I did that, would my perspective change, as suddenly I would have to face my own vulnerability and real poverty?

I remember a poor man I befriended.  Actually, he appeared at my doorstep, asking for help.  He was mentally compromised and not terribly refined.  He had a way of saying inappropriate things.  Sometimes he heard voices.  Sometimes he didn’t take his medications.  He would act erratically and make others uncomfortable.  He stayed in the shed and over time he began to think of me as a friend.  He trusted me.  That became a burden that consumed both time and energy.  Already I had a multitude of responsibilities.  He was one more.  Others complained because of the pressures he put on them.  He drank alcohol and used drugs.  Sometimes he made them feel threatened.  Then there was the question of his odor.  They said he should go someplace else where he would be more welcomed.

They were right, I suppose.  He felt the chill and so disappeared from our community.  Then he was arrested for trespassing.  He called me from jail and asked why we had turned against him.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that he was too much of a burden, or that I was embarrassed by his behavior.  I couldn’t tell him that the way he dressed just didn’t fit in with the styles worn by the others in the community.  How could I have told him he should have showered more often?  I couldn’t let him use our showers, could I?  So, as bad as I felt for him, I couldn’t give him an answer that would leave him with any sense of personal dignity.

It will be hard to sleep tonight.  Over and over in my mind I ask myself how we are supposed to live practically and at the same time be the kind of people you would have us be.  I look in the mirror and wonder if I am becoming what you describe as pharisaical.

Something isn’t right.  That becomes all the more glaring when I reflect on those with whom you practiced Table Fellowship.  I can’t ever remember being criticized for those with whom I dine, or even for those with whom I gathered d around your Table.

There is a gnawing inside me, an idea that is trying to break through to my consciousness.  I don’t think I can deal with that right now.  I have a homily to prepare.

I might fall asleep tonight wondering if some of those with whom I keep company and some of those with whom I break bread should outrage others among regulars.  Please help me.  Could you get back to me about all this?  Some time when I have more time to listen.  I want to be comfortable again.

Sincerely,

Didymus