The question of hard hearts

HardHeart“They had not understood the incident of the loaves.
On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.”

These are the last two lines of today’s Gospel from Mark. For whatever reason, I don’t feel as if I have ever read them before. In fact, I felt shock when I read them earlier today.

“They had not understood the incident of the loaves.
On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.”

This makes me think about how we live in the midst of grace and miracles all the time, but we frequently do not understand, and our hearts are hardened as well.

What makes us so quick to judge?

If the Church does this or that, if the Pope says this or that, if a popular Catholic writer or blogger says this or that, if our priest, bishop, or someone else we know from church says this or that, many of us tend to want to circle around that person in admiration. Of course, just as often, we want to circle around that person to deride, judge, or attack.

How do we allow Jesus to thaw our hearts? Are we even interested in such a thing? Do we want to be justified? Or transformed?

Today I hope to see the miracles and grace that are all around me. Today I pray to not react with a hard heart, but to respond with the openness of grace that allows me to see God in all things.


Finding Light – It’s Right Here

“What has been lost is the true beholding of the light from inner eyes. Grace is given to heal that inner sight, to open our eyes again to the goodness that is deep within us, for God is within us.” John Scottus Eriugena

Yesterday, I was looking at a very fine book called “The Power of Pause” by Terry Hershey, published by Loyola Press and came across that quote. It really struck me, so I put it on my Facebook page and it received no comment, not even a “like.”  (What gets attention on Facebook is a whole other story, err I mean blogpost!)

In any event, the words stayed with me today as I read from (also from Loyola Press) the Friday Wisdom Story at People For Others. It was at this blog that I first heard about The Power of Pause in the first place. Anyway, unrelated to the book, but part of the blog is this week’s wisdom story. It is about finding the treasure in what is already before us and the simple. Go ahead and read it, it is worth the short time it will take you to do so.

The ordinary is often the most remarkable thing, yet it is what we ignore in our search for the next best thing. The simple is usually the solution, but we often buy our way to it or exhaust ourselves in searching for such a thing. I say that as a copy of Real Simple sits before me. (One time my sister-in-law heard me refer to this magazine and bought me a multi-year subscription which never seems to end. *sigh* Real-Not-Simple.)

In any case, what treasures are before you on this day, revealed in the simple and the humble? What treasure is within you on this day, that are a challenge for you to find, to accept and to love?

Another thing that I think about is all the blogs that I try to check in on, along with Facebook pages. What strikes me is just how much anger and vitriol there is out there. Typically these sentiments are found on Catholic blogs where there is a never ending stream of angry, divisive and negative comments. Sometimes it is the blogger who starts it, other times the comment thread takes that direction. It does make me wonder about how we discover God in ourselves and one another as part of our faith journey.

How do you find your light? Finding my own is not so easy but I am hoping that if we can do this together, we can all shine more light on what is good. This good is all around and within us! This good is God, present and alive and waiting for us to respond. The quote at the top is a good way to help me refocus and respond to grace; may it be the same for you!

Persistence and Grace – The 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I come late to this reflection, but here I am. Maybe that is part of the persistence theme in today’s readings? Perhaps. More likely I am just far, far behind after a busy week and after having been away last weekend!

Honestly, I didn’t have something for today; no time to really prepare the right way. Then I went to mass this morning and I can’t help but use the story that Fr. Turbull told us in his homily.

There was an elderly and childless orthodox Jewish couple in Albany; they owned a store on Central Avenue. Each day they would be in the store, but not before the woman went to shul each day to pray. In Orthodox Judaism, men and women largely remain segregated and at the time this woman was alive, I’m guessing this story took place in the 40’s, it was definitely so!

The men would pray in the main sanctuary and the women would sit in an upper balcony, where they could pray silently, as if observers. In Judaism, 10 men are required for a minyan, the minimum number for prayer. This is interesting to me because it relates to the “us” of prayer and not the “me” that is so common in many prayer practices. It is another reminder of the similarities, and there are so many, between Judaism and our Catholic Christian faith which has grown from that root.

In any event, if there are not 10 men, there is no prayer.

One day the women went to the synagogue and lo and behold there were only 9 men present. What would they do? Them men spoke and then looked up… would she come to pray with them to make the minyan? (This was a huge breech of what was acceptable, but good for those men to witness the woman’s faithful daily presence with such respect and inclusion, no matter what their motivation.)

Apparently this woman was over the moon with joy and her life was probably never the same after that day. Her faithful present brought forth an unexpected bout of grace that one day.

Perhaps she was like the woman in Luke’s Gospel, petitioning the unjust judge. Her regular and faithful, persistent and hopeful presence finally wrought her the judgment that she sought.  Now who knows if the woman that Father spoke of this morning felt like she was petitioning, but she did go to God daily, in prayer and with her presence. This brings the reminder of what St. Paul says to Timothy in today’s second reading; “be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”  We live in a culture of convenience, what would St. Paul say about us!

Which brings me back to the first reading from the Book of Exodus and the thought that we do not pray the prayer if I, we do not carry the Cross alone; we are in community and are one in Christ. Just as Moses could not keep his arms aloft without the help of Aaron and Hur, just as Christ could not carry the cross alone and just as we are all part of something bigger by virtue of our faith… we pray a prayer of we, not of me.

When we pray we may not ever hear what we want, when we pray we may end up getting what we want – far beyond any time boundary that we set for it. We wait in joyful hope- at least that is the thought.

However, even that waiting is not a solitary act, and it is certainly not always convenient and it is not passive… Persistence yields grace.

It’s A Beautiful Day!

This day marks so many things. They all point to joy. They all cause me to feel gratitude beyond imaging. 

Talk about a sacramental marriage… This is all about marrying a person, a family, a parish, a community, a world.

There is so much to be grateful for… It is all gift. Mark, Erica, Gracie, Boo-boo, my friends and neighbors, my new career – such as it is. All gift. All joy. All. It is also all so unlikely.

And yet – Here. We. Are.

Grace – Not A "Begrudged Mop Up Exercise"

January 2010 will go down as a time in my life when writing did not come easily to me. Part of it is time – or a lack of it. Part of it is… I don’t know. I wish I could explain it; I wish I could lean into it and keep writing. Not much comes.

Today however, I read this link from the Center for Action and Contemplation, home of my favorite Franciscan, Richard Rohr, OFM. It got me thinking about a lot of things and I will make some attempt to write about them here.

Rohr starts out with this (emphasis mine):

God fills in the gaps of human deficiency by a great act of mercy and compassion, and the word for that great act for St. Paul is “Christ.”  For him Christ is the name for God’s great compassion, God’s great plan, God’s readiness to fill in the gaps of human sin, brokenness, poverty, and failure.  It is not a begrudged mop-up exercise after the fact, but as John Duns Scotus taught us Franciscans, “Christ was the very first idea in the mind of God.”  “All was created through him and for him …and he holds all things in unity and reconciles all within himself” (Colossians 1:16-17, 20).  Christ is God’s master plan and blueprint for history!  Salvation was the plan from the beginning, and not a mere response to our mistakes.

God fills in… I love this beginning because it points to a God that loves us and so generously cares for us. This is the opposite of a meaner view of God, put forth by so many and accepted by so many. In fact, accepted by people who are not even sure that God exists!

I think this also addresses a school of religious thought that puts the focus on us as humans. If we do all this heavy lifting, from prayer to whatever actions and devotions, it is as if we were cleaning up with the Cosmic Swiffer.

Make no mistake, I think that our actions matter – but not because we are changing God! No God is always changing us, when we allow such change.

Rohr continues:

So why do we make the Gospel into a cheap worthiness contest? After all, we have all fallen short of the glory (Romans 3:23, 5:12) and all are saved by mercy (Romans 11:32-36). Even Mary proclaims it of herself (four times!) in her “Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). Popes and priests, presidents and politicians are all saved “en Cristo” and by mercy and in our undeserved state. No exceptions.

God does not love us if we change. God loves us so that we can change. These are two very different scenarios, but most of Christian history has sadly chosen the first.

Not if we can change, but rather so we can change. This isn’t a cleanup operation, it is an invitation to become the very people that God has loved into being. This is an invitation to respond to the grace that is all around us.

How this propels me on a January morning and makes the embers of my writing fire begin to glow again.