Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 30, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33
A reading from the first Letter of St. Peter 1:17-21
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 24:13-35

Dear Reader,

Have you ever noticed that the beginnings of faith often have to do with letting go of suppositions about Jesus?  As you started out you might have had to let go of so much as you dealt with disappointment.  Perhaps you thought you believed only to have an epiphany, as it were that told you that you had no idea.  Or better, you discovered that your preconceptions centered on such a limited portion of the truth and often involved misconceptions.  We are dealing with Mystery, after all, so, when you think about it why should that have been a surprise?

Today’s Gospel passages are among my favorites. I pray with it at least weekly.  Each time I find something new that is a marvel.  I turn to the passage in times of desolation.  I rest in it in times of elation.  I have come to accept that to be a believer means to journey with Jesus on the way.

Think about it.  When and where did your faith life begin?  What sustains it?

The two people on their way to Emmaus are introduced to us as disciples.  That designation means that they had made their decisions to follow, i.e., to be with Jesus.  These two are different from those who made up the crowds that milled around Jesus, listening to him, observing him in action, but remaining uncommitted.  We are given a hint about what the two thought about Jesus.  He was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.  His powerful preaching impressed them, and even more so by how his preaching translated into action.   They may well have concluded that there had never been another as wonderful as Jesus who could give them reason to hope during the oppressive times in which they were living.  Remember, they lived in a time of domination by Roman rule.  Jesus seemed to fit so many of the qualities that they expected to see exhibited in the one who would redeem Israel, that is, the one who would set Israel free from the oppressors.

What had gone wrong?  The two are conversing and debating about their Jesus experience.  Some things he said and did fit their preconceptions of the Messiah.  The poor did have the Good News preached to them.  It had been thrilling to see multitudes rapt in attention to his every word.  Some wanted to touch his clothes, believing in the power of contact with him.  There had been reports of miracles.  But then came the condemnation and crucifixion that seemed to reduce him to the status of a common criminal.  That was a concept not associated with the Messiah.

When you began to believe, what did you imagine Jesus would do for you?  There are not a few today who promote a Jesus who will bring wealth and power to those who turn their lives over to him.  Did such thought draw you to Jesus in the beginning?

The stranger that joins the two on their way to Emmaus invites them to go deeper into their disappointments.  He gives them an opportunity to acknowledge their grief, even as he invites them to let go of their assumptions and enter the new Way.  Don’t miss the important statement that their eyes were prevented from recognizing (Jesus).  It happens in Luke and John’s Gospels that disciples do not recognize the Resurrected One in their first encounters with him.  What is happening is, these disciples are coming to see him for the first time with insights that alter all their previous experiences of him.  Invariable there is much they must let go of.  Is it not curious that the two have heard the astounding news reported by some of the women in the group?  The empty tomb.  Angels announcing that he is alive.  Amazing news, yes, but not enough to convince them.

Hang on now.  There is an abrupt transition.  The Stranger does not mince words.  How foolish you are.  How slow of heart to believe!  They have missed the whole point of the mission and message.  The Jesus moment was one of God’s entering into the human experience, inviting people to live a new life.  It was as if God were saying again, in the words found in Hebrew Scriptures, Let me be your God and you will be my people.  God wants to live in a union that you could never have dreamed or imagined, if only you will not be embarrassed by this different kind of Messiah, different from your expectations.  This is the Christ who walks with you in faith.  Here is the shocking transition that, if accepted, alters forever the meaning and role of suffering in life.

The common belief regarding suffering was, and for many continues today to be, that suffering was a punishment for sin, either for one’s own sins or those of one’s ancestors.  The crucifixion was horrible, but worse was the obvious meaning assumed by many that God punished Jesus on the cross through the hands of those who drove in the nails and crowned him with thorns.  How foolish you are.  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?

Chew on that for a moment.  Unfortunately, we hear texts over and over again.  A Gospel is proclaimed.  We hear the opening words, know the rest of the story, and muse off about something else until the proclamation is over.  I remember looking out at the Assembly while reading the Gospel that spoke of Jesus’ calming the wind and the waves.   A woman yawned.  That startled me.  How could someone hear about the calming of gales and yawn?

So here, too.  What should shock us each time we hear it is, in a simple turn of phrase, suffering, far from being a punishment for sin, becomes a means of entering into glory.  Christ is a suffering Messiah.

Then what about disciples?  What comes to them if they follow Jesus?  The challenge is that Jesus must be all in all for them.  I wonder if the two disciples remembered that Jesus had warned that if they would be his disciples they would have to take up the cross every day and follow him.  Had they been present for the encounter between Jesus and the rich person who desired salvation?  That person had followed all the commandments from youth.  What more had to be done?  Go sell what you have and give to the poor.  Then come and follow me.  That person went away sad.  Giving up his wealth and becoming one with the poor was more than he could do.

The two disciples had to let go of their assumptions and preconceptions.  It is not an exaggeration to say that they had to go back to square one.  They had to read the scriptures in a new light.  They had to see that discipleship was not for self-aggrandizement but for imitating Jesus, loving as he loved.  There was so much that had to die if they were to live.  And there was the cross at the center of it all.

Isn’t it curious that with all the insights the Stranger shared with them, they still did not recognize him?  The recognition of the truth burning in their hearts did not remove the veil from their eyes.  That happened at the Table, not in the way that we might expect, but in how Christ’s abiding presence would be achieved.  The Brad is broken.  It is in the action of the Eucharist that they recognized the Risen One.  As soon as they did they are compelled to return to their community to tell the story and share the faith.

So it must be for us.  The Word lives in the proclamation.  As we are nourished at the table of the Word and our hearts burn with the recognition of the truth, we must go to the other Table and do Eucharist.  It is there we will recognize the Risen One and know his presence.  But it never stops there.  Celebrating Eucharist and sharing in that meal mean that we must then be sent to tell the Good News in word and action, loving others as we are loved.  And the Kingdom dawns.




FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT – A – April 02, 2017

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 37:12-14
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:8-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 11:1-45

Dear Readers,

I had not seen or heard from him in long, long time.  I recognized his voice with the first words that came to me over the telephone.  It was well past midnight and I had been in deep sleep when the ring woke me.  By the third ring I had lifted the receiver and, after a light cough to clear my throat, said, “Hello.”

“Do you know who this is? He asked.

Amazing, isn’t it, the images that can flood the mind in a moment?  I saw him as he sat across the table from me in a prison visiting room.  He always sat hunched forward, with his hands clutched and between his knees.  Occasionally he would look at me, but, for the most part, he stared at the floor while he spoke.  His voice was soft and often I had to strain to hear what he was saying.  When I was first getting to know him I had thought that was because he did not want to be overheard.  I came to understand that the softness of his voice grew out of the gentle spirit that was at his core.

He had talked about his ethnicity and was proud that he was Native American.  I do not remember the tribe, but his surname was Eaglefeather.  His heart, he said, could soar like an eagle even when he was behind prison walls.  There is no question that he was a criminal or that his crime was the result of alcohol.  In sobriety and serving the time to which he was sentenced, he said he was embarrassed by what wine drove him to do.

During those sessions when we were first getting acquainted, he told me about his childhood and the poverty from which he came.  He talked about the difficulty of living on the reservation and about alcoholism that plagued his family.  As a child he had vowed never to let alcohol dominate his life.  He had watched his father die and two of his siblings all still comparatively young, none of them reaching fifty.

He was oblivious of his surroundings when he sketched.  From an early age he had wanted to be an artist.  He showed me books filled with his work.  His drawings in the beginning were crude, but even the earliest line drawings gave evidence of the talent with which he was gifted.   As he refined his skills, he filled pages with details – leaves, flowers, profiles, hands, ears, and eyes.  And there were portraits of Jesus.  Some were obvious imitations of romantic religious art.  These, too, evolved as his Jesus took on features of people Eaglefeather knew or imagined, all of them suffering.  His Jesus was masculine.  Sometimes he sat against a wall with a cup outstretched, begging.  Or Jesus cowered before those berating him.  Or, he sat whittling, telling stories to a child at his feet.

Eaglefeather had a deep spirituality.  He told me that he prayed often, most often when he was drawing.  “I see Jesus in people, especially in the poor and the desperate.  I don’t know why it is so obvious to me.  When I was on the outside, I couldn’t pass by a beggar without giving something, even if it was the last dime I had.  And if someone was crying, I felt like crying, too.  I shared the suffering until drink deadened my spirit and dulled me to the pain that was all around me.”

During that last visit in the prison room, Eaglefeather talked about his faith.  He envied my being a priest.  “You get to do the holy things, to help us to pray and tell us that God loves us.  You get to touch the Holy, the Bread and the Wine.  Do you know what I have always wished I could do?”

“What is that?”

“I’ve always wished I could look into the chalice as you say the words to see the wine change.  Do you ever get used to that?”

“The look of the wine doesn’t change anymore than its taste does.  Faith tells me it is different, not my eyes.  The people you see, how do they change when you see Jesus in them?  Aren’t they the same before and after?  Does anyone else see the difference you do?  It is not your eyes that see the difference.  It is your faith that makes it so.”

A few days later I received in the mail an Eaglefeather sketch.  Two hands held a chalice.  The contents of the cup were shadowed.  Just beyond the table, his eyes covered with a cloth that knotted at the back of his head, clad in period-less garb, a man sat in rags and leaned forward, supporting himself with one arm, while his other open hand outstretched toward the cup.

* * *

“Do you know who this is?”

“Is that you, Lazarus?  It has been a long time, my friend.”

“I’ve called to say goodbye.”

“Good bye?  What do you mean?”

“I’m tired and I can’t do this anymore.  It’s been such a long struggle.  You never knew about this, did you?  Shortly after I got out of prison, my kidneys failed.  It wasn’t because of my drinking.  It was genetic and had to do with my high blood pressure.  I tried raging at God for a while.  That proved pointless.  Doctors told me that the only hope was a transplant.  In the meantime I would have to do on dialysis.

“Do you what that means?”

I told him that I knew what dialysis is, but that I had never dealt with anyone on the system.  He described how for four hours a day, three times a week, he was attached to the dialysis machine, an IV running out one arm and into the machine, and another, from the machine, into his other arm.  Four hours of purifying his blood of the toxins that, if allowed to build up in him, would kill him.  He said he was exhausted as he began the process and fatigued at its end.  The only day he felt normal and had any energy was the day after the treatment.

“I have a love/hate relationship with that awful machine.  I love it because it is a lifeline for me.  I hate it because I am enslaved to it and would die without it.

“I’ve tried to say away, to quite, telling myself it is not worth it.  But always before now, I have gone crawling back, limp, spent, and barely able to stand.  They would hitch me up again and the process started all over again.  I think I have done that five times now, quit and started up again.  This time I have decided never to go back again.  Ever.”

I heard the determination in his voice, even as I feared the implications of what he was saying.  And so, I said nothing.  My heart pounded in my chest.  Finally and with hesitation I said, “Lazarus…Lazarus, is there anything I can do?”

“You ‘re doing it,” he said.  “You’re listening to me.  I’m not telling you where I am so that you can’t come after me.  I won’t tell you where I am going so that you won’t be able to send help.  No one will find me until it is over.”

Tears welled in my eyes and my throat constricted.  I prayed for the right words, but nothing came.  I stood at the window of my bedroom and looked out into the night and the city lights.  I wondered if he could be in one of those windows looking out in my direction.  It was clear that he was alone at a time when no one should have to be.

“I want to ask you something,” he said.  “Do you think dying is the worst thing?”

“The worst thing?  I don’t know.  I do know that it is the one experience we will never understand until we go through it.  We can be with others as they die.  We can watch the last breath and see the palpable change as life leaves the body.  But we can’t know death until we die.  I believe there is more.  But that is not because of what I have seen.  It is because of what I believe.”

You told me once that we believe in the resurrection of the body because Jesus rose.  I’ve thought about that.  Will my body still be broken when it rises again?  Will my kidneys still not work?  Will I still be plagued with desires and feel the loneliness of my isolation?”

Oh, Lazarus, I don’t think so.  I don’t know what your body will be like in the resurrection, only that it will be.  It is mystery.  It will lack nothing.  Your kidneys will work very well, if they have to.  Even the feminine part of you will be as complete as the masculine.  You are made in God’s image, after all, just like the Earthling before the fall.  And you will know love, the inexhaustible love that is God.”

I’m blathering, I thought.  I felt desperate to find words that would soothe and comfort him.  I wanted to find a way to encourage him to try again, to continue with the dialysis process that he loved and hated.  But that was not what he was seeking from me.  He had said he wanted me to listen.  I think he wanted me to support him and assure him that everything would be resolved in God’s love.

“Lazarus, I want you to feel my arms around you.  In the strength of that embrace, relax, and rest your head on my shoulder.  I am with you.  I love you and will be with you to this journey’s end.  I promise you that.  That is all I can do.  And I will pray.”

I listened to the silence.  Then I heard a sob and a strangled voice cry out, “Oh, God!  Father, will Jesus be there?”

My cheeks were wet with tears.  I remember that my voice was clear and that I spoke with ease.  “Do you remember when you told me how you could see Jesus in all the people you met, especially in the poor and the suffering people?  God sees that way, too.  God is looking at you now and in your suffering he recognizes Jesus in his passion.  God loves you with the same love God has for Jesus.  God is with you.  Nothing will separate you from that love.  God will take you by the hand and call you forth from the grave.  God will embrace you and lift you up.  God will wipe away your tears and put fine clothes on you and prepare the feast….”

Is that where I stopped?  I don’t remember.  How did we say, “Goodbye?”  Could I have gone back to my bed and slept?  OR did I spend the night staring into the darkness, yearning for the first signs of dawn?

I read the story in the newspaper.  They had found Lazarus Eaglefeather in a campground on the other side of the mountains, seated cross-legged on a blanket on the ground and facing east.




Do you remember the Christmas carol that sang: We need a little Christmas, just a little Christmas?  That may well be true this year as it is every year; but it seems to me that this year what we need is Advent, and not just a little Advent?  We need to be challenged by Advent and dare to live its message.

This year has been difficult to slog through.  For many of us there have been too few signs to elicit hope.  Angry and disenfranchised people seek validation, even as the vitriol invites the recognition of divisions, to shun, and for some the denial of basic human rights this country professes to stand for.  Do you ever hear the Statue of Liberty’s motto quoted, much less proclaimed?  Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.  That may well have been true when our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came to these shores from other lands.  The message we hear more today is one of evicting some and barring entry for others.

We are becoming an increasingly class-conscious society, a society of haves and have-nots.  The majority of the wealth is in the hands of fewer and fewer.  And the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough.  And if they don’t work hard enough, they don’t deserve a larger share.

In one of our major cities, there have been 4183 shooting victims so far this year.  There may not be very many communities that can say they have had none.  Add to that the incidents of domestic violence and road rage.  There are not many who would say that these are the best of times.

The wars continue with horrific images of children battered and bruised having been rescued from rubble, in many cases the individual survivors of families killed by suicide bombers and strategic strafings.

We need Advent this year.   We need to embrace what Advent proclaims and accept the challenge.

Advent leads us to a celebration of the Incarnation, the union of the Divine and the Human in Jesus and in all humankind.  The event happened in an historical moment and altered mere humans forever.  There is no separation between the Divine and the human.  Humanity is drawn into the community that is the Tri-Une God.  The reality applies to all humans, in every land and nation, of every race and both genders, and sexual orientations.  God loves what God creates with a love that is unconditional and eternal.  Flawed as we are, God’s love prevails.  The human race is one family of God.

We need to accept the challenge of Advent.  In this season we look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God when Christ returns in Glory.  The challenge for us is to be ambassadors of that Kingdom.  John, the Baptist, was one who pointed the way to the emerging Jesus, the one he knew to be the Messiah.  But then John, who had known his moment of celebrity to the point that some thought he might be the Messiah, was arrested and imprisoned.  And he wondered.  He sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he were the one, or should they look for another.  And Jesus told them to go and tell John what you see – all the signs of healing, and preaching, and embracing the poor, the outcasts and the sinners, tell John about what you see and he will know and believe.

As challenging as these times are, as much as they could send terror and even despair into the human heart, we who have heard the Good News and who believe must continue to be that sign of the coming Kingdom in the World.  Remember, we, as members of the church, are the Body of Christ.  As church, our message is that all are welcome here.  At the end of our transforming Liturgy, having celebrated Eucharist and shared the meal, we are sent as the Body of Christ to minister in the market place.  We are to be bread that is broken and cup that is poured out.  Our challenge is to put the poor in primacy of place and to minister to them.  That means, also, to honor them and to recognize their dignity.

I had a reunion with a friend I had not seen for many years.  We spent time over coffee catching up.  Our friendship goes back decades.  It became clear to me that we were avoiding talking about church, so I pressed the issue.  He spoke with tears in his eyes.  “The church told me I was no longer welcome, that I am evil.  So, I’ve gone to another community that accepts me.  To tell you the truth, I was dreading our getting together for fear that you would be of that same mind.”

Over the centuries condemning and dividing at times has been a dominant message proclaimed by the church.  We burned heretics and excommunicated those who questioned church teachings.  Classes of people, like my friend, felt they were deemed unworthy of being part of the church.  That was never what Jesus preached.  His Good News welcomed all, especially the poor, yes, but also the Gentiles and those considered unclean.  God’s love comes into the world through Jesus and is meant for all people.

We need a little Advent this year.  As individuals, each of us can be John, the Baptist by living in such a way that we prepare the way for Christ for those who do not know Christ.  We assist in the reconciliation with Christ for those who thought the church considered them unworthy of being part of the Body.  And if you have been wounded by what you perceived to be a condemnation or declaration of unworthiness, and your heart is aching for reconciliation and acceptance, hear the Gospel and find the community that welcomes you and proclaims God’s unconditional and eternal love for you.

Advent is a season of expectation that culminates in the celebration of Christmas and the realization of that longing.  We live in a time of expectation for Christ’s return in glory and the full reign of the Kingdom.  In reality, it is both and, both a time of longing and of living in the fulfillment in our union with Christ.  There is tension in keeping those two phases alive in our hearts.  But if we let the Spirit lead us we can do it.

Here is a suggestion.  If there is someone you look down on, get down to that person’s level and see a brother or sister.  If it is a group or class that you despise, get to know a representative of that group and find his/her humanity.  If you have a need to forgive or be forgiven, let it happen.  By the way, it is easier to forgive if you remember your own need for forgiveness.

Each of those encounters will enable you to be John, the Baptist, in this age.  And every embrace in forgiveness and acceptance and recognition of dignity and worth hastens the day of the Kingdom we long for.  We need a little Advent this year more than ever.