I Have Fixed My Eyes On Your Hills – A Meditation on Palm Sunday 2011

Palm Sunday is here and Holy Week begins. Many liturgies today will begin with a portion from Matthew’s Gospel; the I am not at home this weekend and it feels very strange to be away from my own parish community on such a day.

As I read the readings and Gospel for today, I am reminded of something very personal – the recent passing of my husband’s sister, Olga Szpylczyn. Is this too personal and far from the readings? I don’t know – it is all I can offer today. Like Jesus, Olga knew where she was headed and it was not going to be pretty. Death would not come by riding on the best horse.

Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”


Olga, who was anything but meek in life began to embrace who she was as she plied her way on the journey. She did so without fanfare or remarkably without much fear. Olga, as the very hard-working daughter of extremely hard-working immigrants was used to achievement in the classic American cultural sense of the word. If she wanted to book the limo, she could. While she would not typically do such a thing, she did know that she could because she had worked hard and achieved it. She was not arrogant, but she was clear about the relationship between work and rewards as seen in our society.

Her journey into death was not the one she imagined. Will any of our own journeys into death be what we imagine? Probably not – most of us can’t or won’t imagine them until we are forced to. That is when the game change begins.

So she rode on her beast of burden as all of us who loved her surrounded her with prayer. We wanted the limo to take her back to us. She stayed on that damn ass with her eyes on the Lord. The song in the video below reminds us “though I cannot see the end for me, I cannot turn away.” She did not turn away.

There is so much more to the Sacred Scriptures for today, but all I can think of is Olga, settled in for her ride. She met death without compromise and tumbled into the arms of God.

She journeyed to Jerusalem, as we all must do. Rest in peace dear Olga.

The Smell of the Resurrection

A reflection on today’s readings, Sunday, April 10, 2011.

“This gorgeous NE Missouri spring morning is the kind of morning that reminds me that the home stretch of Lent is always the hardest–that the smell of the resurrection of nature is just around the corner, and about to burst at the seams–It makes me absolutely itchy for Easter resurrections of all sorts.” – Maria L. Evans

I read the words you see above on Maria’s facebook page; she blogs at Kirkepiscatoid. When I read them, they knocked me back a bit, but that was a few hours ago and I had nothing that I could say about them. Or about today’s readings.

We are coming upon it now… This is the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we’ve been at this awhile and we are tired. Well, I’m tired anyway, I can’t speak for you. I’m really tired. Lent began and my sister-in-law Olga was alive, now she is not. Lent began with death and ashes and it got to be real death and ashes around here. I feel weary and frustrated. I do not doubt but I do get to shaking my fist at God from time to time.

In any case, I read Maria’s words and they rested in my heart. I read Shannon’s blog post about today’s readings. I read Richard Vosko’s homily. I thought about how today is the 56th anniversary of the death of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. I read about Faith and the Cosmos. I continued to ponder the often angry  and vitriolic dialogue I often encountered on the internet, diatribe that I once participated in and am still tempted to. That made me restless so I watched a TV program about women rabbis, including the first Orthodox woman rabbi, Rabba Sara Hurwitz. (Also featured were Andrea Warnick Buchdahl and Dianne Cohler Esses.)

Nothing. Dry bones in my heart and in my head. There was nothing else that I could do, so I got the leash and Gracie and I headed out to the beautiful day.

I decided to check out a nearby park/path that I had never explored before, so off I went with ideas like the smell of the Resurrection, science and faith, and the ordination of women dancing in my head. The sun was warm and comforting, the scent in the air held promise.  Plus, I was in the mood to go somewhere that I had never been before.

Turning into the parkway and path, I immediately noticed the woods all around. Many of the trees were fallen, strewn like toothpicks after a giants’ banquet. They lay crisscrossed on either side of the path. Some had holes bored into them and I could imagine the din of the woodpecker that left his signature. Some had peeling bark, reminding me of bad sunburns gone worse. Some were just remnants of the fine trees they once were, left to die on the side of the pathway.

Gracie pulled me forward, this was a cornucopia of scents for her, such delight. We crossed one little wooden bridge over a creek and then another. I stopped to look down.

Oh. My. God.

The water that ran was clear and light, it was dancing through the furrow in the dirt. However, it wasn’t the water alone that caught me off-guard, it was the green. Coming up all around were green shoots. Some were more unfurled than others, but they were all there. Evidence of life, new life.

Then there were those fallen trunks. As I walked I began to study them more closely. Some had moss growing on them, others had ferns. Ferns and flowers were pushing up in the open areas too.

Those decomposing trees were giving new life. The dry bones were coming to life, like Lazarus called back! It was the smell of the resurrection made manifest in this patch of forest in my sleepy suburb!

That was it. New life comes all the time, even if I do not expect it or want it. Olga had died, but she comes to new life. Teilhard de Chardin is dead but his ideas are not and he is no longer silenced. Some of my ideas about life took their last breath and I continue to have a hard time letting them go, but die they do and they bring new life.

The bones will come to life, the dead will dance and the spirit will be put into us. I always wonder -will I, will we, be ready?

Hmm, That Can’t Be Him!

A reflection for April 9, 2011.

Today’s Gospel from John, ends with this line:

“Then each went to his own house.”

Of course, each Gospel was written to have meaning beyond basic, literal words, but I am always reminded of how John uses nearly every word to convey something. When I read that line, in the context of the Gospel itself, I am reminded of how we misdirect ourselves.

Let’s step back a moment however and go back to the text of the Gospel verses for today.  We come upon a crowd who upon hearing Jesus arrive at different conclusions.

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said,
“This is truly the Prophet.”
Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?”

As we can see, some of the people present thought they heard a prophet, others knew that this was the Christ but others were quick to say that Jesus was not the Christ at all.

And why not?

Christ was apparently not coming from Galilee!

What a trap we fall into when we “each go to our own house,” to paraphrase the last line of today’s Gospel. When we retreat into our own opinions and go off with them, rather than be in community with understanding that may be difficult to understand, we close off.

One need only open a newspaper, or some so-called Catholic publications, to see who is “in” or “out.” Read many Catholic blogs? It is even worse!

We can all find ways to dissect and eviscerate each other in the name of God. It is very easy to use Scripture, documents and teaching to justify the exclusion of others because… well, because ““The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?”

Judging others is easy, dismissing them is also done with ease because we want to believe that we know who is who… Perhaps not.

Is our invitation today to meet and encounter the Christ in surprising places? What will happen if we follow Jesus and go places that are not clear? How can we find Jesus if we just go “back to our own house?”

Will we encounter Jesus the Christ? Where will you meet him today?

I Fought the Law and the Law… What Does the Law Mean Anyway?

A Reflection for March 30, 2011

Today’s readings give us some unique bookends to consider regarding the spirit of the law and the letter of the law.

In the first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy, we hear Moses speaking to his people.

“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,

And then we read the words of Jesus in the Gospel:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,

The law stands – that seems clear, but Jesus looks at how the law is fulfilled in a very different way. It is remarkably easy for most of us to say that Jesus meant one thing or another when we try to live the Gospel.

But is it remarkably easy?

I am always reminded that if the Gospel does not challenge all of us, we are not hearing let alone living the Gospel. That means we don’t just get to read, proclaim, put forth the Gospel about the things that we love and believe in.

If it challenges us,perhaps we can consider that an invitation to go more deeply inside of whatever it is and explore what that means. It would seem to me that Jesus is all about the rules and yet not in any way that most of us, whatever our position is, can truly understand.

 If we can only use the Gospel to clobber others and prop ourselves up, a position that can be so seductively attractive, they maybe we do not live that Gospel at all.

The Gospel and The Church, The Gospel and the church.

Today’s readings provide us with some real challenge… as they should. The Gospel and the Church and the Gospel and the church, small c intentional.

Most days find me deep within my Catholic life (and my catholic life, small c intentional again), accepting the dissonance and the ambiguity of what I am called to by following Christ as a Roman Catholic. I used to get very high-minded and eschew all the seeming hypocrisy. Then I came to slowly and painfully understand the hypocrisy that is part of life. It is part of an active faith to discern willful hypocrisy, but it is also a part of surrender to know that we are all hypocrites. All of that self-righteousness was and what remains of it are barriers to humility.

In any event, I am feeling prickly about big C Catholic Church at the moment. It happens. All relationships grate upon us and if they do not, perhaps that requires some introspection on our parts.

In the first reading from Isaiah, there are some strong words, these among them:

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Those words are meant for each and every one of us, from pauper to prince, from the bottom of the church/Church to the top. I am struck by the idea of learning to do good… learning is a lifelong process for everyone.

However, it was the Gospel from Matthew, that truly caught in my heart, like a hook.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

That’s pretty clear but I can think of numerous examples where this Gospel is defied and mocked in Church and church life.

It could be a cleric, bedecked in all sorts of finery, seemingly casually dismissing members of our flock in a public manner. It could be the pious person of good intentions who makes their public devotions but with harsh judgments of others.

It could be and often is me, trying to be simple and good, but so often being anything but.

That is the thing about the Gospel. It is an invitation and challenge to each and every person on the earth.

And I think, I imagine that it is only when we read it as both participants and as recipients of the messages, in ways that are joyful some days and painful on others, that the Gospel springs to life.

So what about the Church and the church? The Church, with all of its many flaws is who we are as God’s people. The church with all of its virtues needs more than its own path.

And perhaps it is the tension between those very poles which is the place in which our faith comes to life and the only place in which we can be redeemed.

For good or ill, this is the Church that has brought us Flannery O’Connor, Oscar Romero, St. Francis of Assisi and others who exemplify the Gospel and challenge us to a different way of living… and that is but 3 people, there are countless others.

Let us always try to examine who we are in all the parts of the story, that is really the idea of the Gospel and the Church, the Gospel and the church.

(In an related but unrelated note, I’d like to link to this post at People for Others, about a book that sounds fantastic. The book is called Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question, by Michael Leach. Even on my worst days, I rarely can imagine not being Catholic and it would appear that this book is a reflection of what many of us who are Catholic feel and believe.)

P.S. – and may we all recall  yesterday’s Gospel and the call to be merciful!

Be Merciful

I did not receive any submissions for Lenten reflections for the parish blog for the weekend and I did not have time to post myself. I did not plan on writing anything today. However today’s readings presented me with a simple message, which spoke to me from the Gospel of  Luke.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

Why don’t I get this Gospel assigned to me in my preaching class? Oh well, I haven’t and I probably won’t but I will write about it today!

There is one message here – be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Why is this so hard to do? I know that I am not so good at it, I get angry so easily and how I love to judge.

So today, I will simply try to be present to each moment that I am in and be merciful. I suspect that this will be akin to scaling Everest, but I will give it a try.

Will you join me?

Want to meet Jesus? Look into the face of pretty much everyone that annoys you, for starters anyway.

A reflection based on the readings for Monday, March 14, 2011.

Oh, the Gospel for today, from Matthew 25:31-45, is a treasure, isn’t it? This oft-quoted passage in particular, which is used to fuel many a social justice mission.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

The words above are used to justify all manner of things, but I think that if we distill all the rhetoric away and see it for what it really says, we hear this… Thank you.

God says – thank you. What we also might hear are words justifying social action – which is appropriate. In any case, that is part of what we hear – thank you. You took care of one another and as a result you took care of me.

However, we can hear more, if we listen. Even if we are feeding all the poor people in the world (confession – I am *not* doing that) we still need to hear this Gospel and feel challenged by it.

If you were at mass at St. Edward’s this weekend, you heard Grayson Warren Brown offer his reflections after the Gospel. (Grayson is at St. Edward’s from Sunday through Tuesday for a parish mission/retreat, but I had to go out of town on Saturday, right after mass. I’m sorry to miss this event.)

In any event, Grayson spoke of the power of Christianity and how we are to care for one another. He spoke of us being ambassadors for Christ and what that meant. To care for one another.

So simple. So difficult. Right?

Then we hear this as today’s Gospel continues…

Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

If we do not see Jesus in every face of sorrow and suffering, if we do not see Jesus in every face of despair, if we do not see Jesus in every face of every person who annoys, irritates and upsets us… If we do not see Jesus in the face of every person that we capriciously judge, then we do not see Jesus at all.

This kind of stinks because I am easily annoyed and highly judgmental. I see Jesus all over the place and then brush him off. I hate writing that but it is true.

Don’t we all?

Recently I got in a bit of a comment war over at Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, The Anchoress. Why do I let these petty things get stuck in my craw? I am so judgmental.

I know that Jesus is present in Elizabeth’s voice and in the voice of her commenters, but honestly, at the time that I am in it, I have the hardest time knowing the deep truth of that. And for them, Jesus is in me. Maybe they can see that more easily than I can in reverse, who knows.

So that’s simply one of my moments of not feeding Jesus and in fact, I in some way probably took food right off of his very plate.  However, we are ever invited to begin anew, each moment. Today I am reminded of the awesome power of that and how to care for the very least. It won’t be easy, but if we do this together in Christ’s name, maybe we can do it.

Lent 2011 – The First Sunday in Lent, A Reflection

Lent schment, right? I mean, what is that all about?

I can recall a time in my life, not so long ago, when I felt that way. OK, it was about 20+ years ago, but it doesn’t seem so far away.  Lent was for losers! Church was for people who needed a crutch and were willing to listen to a bunch of mostly older, white men who would tell them what they could do. And perhaps more importantly, what they could not do. Sheesh, who needs that mess. I know who I am, I know what I want and I deserve what I deserve.

Now where is that darn serpent who can tell me where that tree is? The fruit does look pretty good and after all, what is God going to do about it if I eat that fruit?

In today’s readings for this First Sunday of Lent we hear a very familiar first reading,  the story of Adam and Eve, the pesky serpent and that tasty apple. It all looked so good… and it often still does.

I suspect that most of us would have made the same decision as Eve did… The lure of the shiny apple, the smooth voice of the serpent and the thought that some special knowledge or wisdom could be had. How seductive is that? Consider every single advertisement that you have ever read, heard and/or seen. Hello Serpent! Greetings Apple! Welcome Power! Whoo hoo, it is mine and victory is sweet.

Or is it?

Our Gospel from Matthew shows us a different point of view however. Jesus is out in the desert. Please think about this for a moment… He is out in the wilderness of the Judean desert. It is hot, lonely, rocky and mountainous. Hardly a stay at the Hyatt, right? He is likely really hungry, very thirsty and who knows what else.

Make no mistake, Jesus is divine, but Jesus was also human. He suffered in the desert as we might if we actually did follow him there. It is so easy to consider that this might have been easier for Jesus; I have no special knowledge, but I am guessing that it was not. That is the point, right? Jesus’ humanity is at the heart of his divinity.

So “the tempter” comes around to see if Jesus can be swayed and finds out that Jesus will not be. It is so, pardon the pun, tempting to make this story into something that is good to listen to but has nothing to do with us… After all, we’d hardly be in the blazing desert for 40 days and even if we were, we’re not Jesus!

We are not Jesus, but we can be like Jesus.

We are in the desert, symbolically, all the time. Here during Lent, we choose to enter the desert! Or at least we hope to do this!

The story has everything to do with us. We are constantly confronted with choices and each choice bears consequences. Now that is not some finger-wagging morality threat, it is simply true. Each choice that we make, not unlike the choice that Eve made, bears a consequence. And each new choice, thanks to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, offers us the chance to find new consequences, better consequences.

Here it is, we don’t just make one choice and say, “Phew, thank God that’s over!” Well, we might, but new choices are around us all the time. And God’s ever present call to us is with us all the time and the opportunity to choose God always.

The choices we make are usually about more than what is on the surface. Eve wanted the apple, but the message of the serpent was clear – it was the Tree of Knowledge! When offered the chance to be like gods, we see what choice was made. And when Jesus could have turned stones into bread it would not have simply been about food, but rather about power and thus rendering God impotent.

And that’s the real problem. We live in a time in which we all believe that we can be the master of all. Now here’s a little secret for you, the seductive allure of power has been present since, well – since forever. It’s just that we see through own myopic and provincial lens. The manifestations of power and how power is mediated varies throughout history. The allure is the same.

That is why Jesus matters. Jesus is the power and Jesus is who we are invited to choose; we are invited to choose and surrender. That is the gift of grace and offers the transforming power of love and redemption.

Today I do choose Lent, today I do choose Jesus. The things I thought before… I understand why I thought them, I just don’t feel that way anymore. I struggle with other temptations now and I remain a bit skeptical at times, critical at others.

Our choices, even when they begin with Jesus,  invite us to further choices, to choose anew, moment by moment.

It is Lent and we are invited to be aware of our choices, whatever they might be, in a special way at this time. May we find our way through the desert and may we find our way through the temptation that calls us to look away from the Lord.

Easier said than done! Will you join me? I know this much – I can never do it alone.

March 9, 2011 – Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday… Lent begins.

Our readings today remind us that God seeks our hearts, God is always seeking our return. Like all relationships, our relationship with God is dynamic and calls for our active participation, our response. God is always calling to us.

Lent is an invitation to enter more deeply into relationship with God as we strip away some of the things that can come between us. It doesn’t really matter what you give up, it matters that you are seeking God via the practice.

I kind of stink at the giving up thing. One year I gave up TV, this had to be maybe… 1994 or 1995?  Somewhere around then. At the time my TV and cable were hooked up behind a giant wall unit and it was no small task to get back there to unhook and unplug it all. As a result, it was also not easy to reconnect it.

At the time I struggled at first and then something happened… a door opened, I dropped into some place deeper. It may have been my best Lent ever in terms of spaciousness, quiet and transformation.

In any event, most Lents have found me floundering and struggling to keep my promises. Which is pretty much like all of my life, except that during Lent it seems underscored.

Is it like that for you too?

In recent years, something has changed for me. As someone who lived alone for most of my adult life, I had the seeming luxury of no one seeing (except for God!) what I was up to. Now I am married and have a step-daughter and she became a Roman Catholic on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday in 2009 at the age of 12.

As a result, Lent has changed for me. No longer can I quietly slip and ignore it. It is not that she might “see” me slip up, it is that I know how hard she is trying and I feel a different kind of accountability around the whole thing.

Jesus calls us to communal life and to find him through one another.

I’m grateful that my step-daughter has this impact upon me, but I’d love to open that gate a little wider so that I feel more connected to others and more open.

On a related note, I would like to recommend a great Lenten website from Ignatian Spirituality. Each Wednesday, starting today, visit The Lunchtime Examen. Each week, author Jim Manney invites us into this Ignatian prayer practice to explore our consciences. 

I also highly recommend Jim’s fine book entitled, The Prayer That Changes Everything, from Loyola Press. This is a great book to get for Lent, for anytime. It makes the Examen practice clear and accessible for everyone.

Have a good Lent. Please continue to join us for reflections here and if you want to write one, please do let me know!

Lent, Masks, And Who We Truly Are – More About The Dignity of the Human Person

“If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities – “selves,” that is to say, regarded as objects” – Thomas Merton 

 Carnival has begun. In this tradition, masks are donned for a period of time, typically before Lent. The whole thing culminates on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, when the last burst of over-indulgence is expressed just as Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.

I remember being in New Orleans a number of years ago (not for Mardi Gras) and learning that the “success” of the Mardi Gras celebration was measured by how much garbage was collected. I’m not sure if that is true or apocryphal, but what a metaphor for the hours before Lent begins!

In any case, I read the words shown above this morning and was struck by what they say about human dignity.  The dignity of the human person is unsustainable unless we choose to cooperate with grace and to be the very people that God loved into being.

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Pffffft…. Yes it does. Doing so, living it? Hmmmm…. not so much, I’m afraid.

When I read the history of Venetian Carnavale at this link, I was reminded of the 
etymology of the word carnival and its meaning of “farewell to meat.”

Lent is a time when we say “farewell to meat” or at least for part of the time. Lent is a time of stripping away, taking off the masks of our daily lives, not to mention the carnival masks. We all wear masks, whether we realize it or not. Being who we truly are is not a task for faint hearts.

And there is the rub… being who we are in Christ means being who we are. No – who we truly are. (**shudders**) What a messy business that is. If I am who I like to be, then I am a classic overachiever, an over-do-er and all around I-can-handle-it-all type. Oh sure, I say all the right words and I even think that I believe them a good deal of the time, that it is God in me doing the work. I’m just cooperating.

Hah.

I’m considering what my mask – let me rephrase that – what my masks are. It makes me highly uncomfortable. What makes me more uncomfortable is the removal of those masks.

The stripping away. The letting go. The saying farewell to meat, both practically as well as spiritually.

We embed ourselves into our masks and objectification is the end result. I am who my mask says I am… Anyone who has read this blog at all knows that I loathe, rant and rave about labels. The whole, “I am choose one” notion of I am a (fill in the blank), Republican/Democrat/Liberal/Progressive/Conservative/Orthodox/ProLife/ProChoice/Vegetarian/Meatatarian/Libertarian/TeaPartier/Fundamentalist/Traditionalist/Revolutionary… 

This causes me particular angst when I read about how those of us who are Catholic divide ourselves up along these lines. It makes my head spin. That is why I want to eschew all labels except for that particular one.

Yet that too can become a mask of sorts if I do not really live as God asks me to.

Too many masks makes for objectification. Objectification makes for dehumanization. There is no dignity in that.

These are some thoughts on my mind as we approach Lent. I guess that is what I might give up this year… if I can.

My mask.
(this post might get revised… just wanted to put it out there for now.)