Unexpected and unlikely


Fiddling with what I sometimes call “the Google machine,” (I heard Rachel Maddow say that about 5 years ago and have used it ever since) I was looking for references to Our Lady of Guadalupe that might expand the focus beyond what we typically find. With thoughts of Pope Francis and his cry to bring the joy of the Gospel to all, to go out from the Church, mla-virgen-de-guadalupe-estampada-en-la-tilma-de-juan-diegoy fingers flew. Knowing that the “Google machine” works this way, I was not surprised to find a post written by my friend Eric Stoltz in 2010; it was for his parish website. (Eric is a deacon at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly HIlls.) What I came across was his website post for today’s feast from 2010, when he wrote:

The third gift of Tepeyac deals with issues of authority. In the story, the bishop is the obstacle and the conquered peasant carries the world-changing message. This is why, in my world, when her oppressed children cry out—whether janitors massing at City Hall, or farm workers protesting along a dusty road in California’s Central Valley, or gay and lesbian Catholics marching down Santa Monica Boulevard; anawim [those who are despised by society but loved by God] of every stripe—they always carry an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We know she walks with us. Impoverished, immigrant, indigenous or “intrinsically disordered,” we remember her words of assurance to Juan Diego: ¿No soy tu madre? “Am I not your mother?”

God persistently reaches out to us, often in the the most unlikely places and faces. Today it is the appearance of La Guadalupana, but that is simply one variation. How can we recognize God? How can we hear and believe the invitation? How do we understand authority?

Juan+Diego+-+Jose+de+IbarraThis all makes me think that perhaps it is not the institution that needs to be toppled, but rather our own expectations, and the expectations of said institution. Today we are given yet another reminder that when that happens, change comes with it.

Over and over we are given examples of God’s love, mercy, invitation, embrace, assurance, and hope. This is God’s authority! God seeks our response and God’s expectation is that we will do the same for others. That is our authority!

Today, may we walk with the images of God, breaking in unexpectedly and in unlikely people and places. Today, may we remember that our expectation and God’s expectation may be very different things.


Papal Patience and Holy Waiting in Advent

4.2.7Tonight I will host a viewing of “I Would Be Called John,” a one man play about Pope John XXIII, starring Charles Durning. Written by Eugene Kennedy and shot in 1986, the show aired on PBS during September of 1987.

It was interesting to watch the film a few times in preparation, and to hear some of Bl. John XXIII’s ideas, hopes, dreams, and prayers for our Church. His life was certainly interesting, growing up as the son of a tenant farmer, then his life in the Church. He was a humble man and that humility came with him to the Vatican. Pope John XXIII’s focus was very much on how to make a faith real for people.

One thing that struck me is that he wanted hearts and minds that were fully engaged with faith and with the world – and that meant not only transforming the Church for those of us who are members of the Body of Christ, but also for the Curia and those in the Vatican. He had an almost mischievous intensity about what the Holy Spirit urged him to do, something that had been brewing in him for a lifetime of service.

So what?

This also came to mind…  I am constantly amazed by the over-the-top praise (OK, I have done it myself…) and over-the-top criticism of Pope Francis. As I watched the movie and saw what Pope John XXIII was up to, I saw a connection to what Pope Francis is up to. I also saw connections to what the four popes in between were up to, as well. It is all God’s work in the world, through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. Each moment is but a moment, just like we are all members of the Body of Christ.

We are in this season of Advent waiting, the Holy Waiting that we are called to by God. If we think that all of this is happening on our timetable and in our lives, think again. We sit in the shade of trees that were tiny seeds entering the earth a long time ago. So it is with faith, our lives are the seeds of future growth.

This year I am experiencing a rare form of patience, one typically unknown to me. How grateful I am to have been asked to facilitate this movie night, because it led me to see Pope John XXIII in a deeper light – and Advent too. I think of him, that he must have known that the seeds he scattered back then, would take a long time to grow. What hope, what waiting, what patience! From saplings to the ancient woodland forest, God’s work is everywhere. Like Advent, seeds spread long ago, still germinating, still growing, still taking root to this day.  May we all find the peace of Advent in that long arc of grace, God forever at work in this world.

(The DVD “I Would Be Called John” will be shown at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday, December 11, 2013, at 10 AM, hosted by Deacon Michael Melanson, and again at 7 PM, hosted by me. Viewings will take place in the Flicker Room, at the Parish Center. There is no admission, but donations are always gratefully accepted. All are welcome!)

Lost sheep

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? - Matthew 18:12-13

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? – Matthew 18:12-13

The conversation so often begins this way:

I was Catholic, but the Church hates me now.” Or perhaps, “I can’t come to Church any longer, I am divorced.” It might be, “Once I realized that I was gay, I knew that the Church would not accept me.”

These are variations on things that I have heard over the years, no more so than when I began to work as the parish secretary. People come in for mass cards, or to drop off religious items that they came across when cleaning out their parents’ old house.

You see, people come in for a simple transaction – our culture is transaction based. Yet, don’t we all long in some way for encounter? Relationship? Connection? I could quietly prepare their mass card or take the box of rosaries and statues, but I usually try to initiate some conversation.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is a reminder that when just one sheep is lost, the shepherd goes looking.  In today’s lingo, that might now work. Hey, it’s just one stupid sheep, I’ve got 99. Who has the time to go looking? Cut your losses and move on.” That would be the efficiency model.

Since when has Jesus Christ ever been about efficiency?

The Church, no matter what you may hear – or regrettably, experience, welcomes all visitors as Christ. Finding the lost sheep is never efficient. Sadly, it is not the sheep, but the welcome and love that has gotten lost so often. But that does not mean that we can’t bring that love into focus again.

Today, if you feel like a lost sheep, be attentive to your surroundings – you might just hear someone calling your name, seeking your heart. If you have a lost sheep in your life, and who amongst us does not, seek and find them if you can, even if simply with a silent prayer in your heart.


hopperHappy and Blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

What, you may ask, does this Grace Hopper quotation have to do with the Feast of the Annunciation?

I do not know why this struck me this morning, but it did. Today’s Google Doodle is for Grace Hopper, and it derailed my original post, which was almost complete and ready to go. That post was about interruption and grace… so I will take this interruption and redirect as a gift of grace as well.

The thing that hit me when I saw the Google Doodle was this – Mary, because of her nature, understood inner authority and the authority of God. She never paused to consider that she might want to talk to her parents about this or bring them in. Yes, that is a contemporary cultural overlay, but aren’t we called to understand catechesis in that context?

945252714b44f4eeb0cdf58b16d9b4b2Anyway, Mary says yes, without apology. Mary did not ask permission from her parents, she may have been startled, but in the end she simply said yes.

In today’s readings today’s readings, we can take note that Adam and Eve did not understand inner authority nor hearing the voice of God as well as Mary did. My hope and prayer is that we can get ourselves to a different place in regard to the long-standing exegesis that makes all of this about sex alone. This day is about the deeper, wiser, understanding of how God interacts with us, and about who we are in responding to God. Saying yes isn’t the thing alone, it is knowing who to say yes to and when to do so.

Advent is too hard – A guest post from Kristine Rooney

996666_10201964235281177_928651135_nI’m going to be honest…I’m not that wild about Advent this year. Advent is an impossible task. I am trying not to listen to the Christmas carols, and I’m not getting stressed over the holiday rush of what gift to buy which relative. Still, there is a lot to do. Presents don’t buy themselves, trees don’t magically appear in the living room and all of the normal stuff of life still happens whether there are Christmas preparations or not. Leaving the Christmas to-do list aside, Advent itself has its own expectations. I feel like I’m being bombarded with prayers, reflections and ideas on what I SHOULD be doing this Advent. I actually have a little Advent reflection book that starts out asking me to sketch out what my plans for Advent are. I have no plans! Am I supposed to have plans? Now I’m stressing over my lack of plans. Is this what Advent is supposed to be like? Feeling overwhelmed and guilty?

Nope, I’m not going there. Whatever is not life-giving is not God-giving. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if God is anywhere in the “SHOULDs”. Doesn’t that feel freeing? Maybe it’s not that there is so much to do…there’s just so much that we feel we SHOULD do. And Advent is here to say no to that. Stop. Pray about the “shoulds”. Do I feel called to do this? Does it help others? Do I feel a “yes” inside when I think about it? These questions will help make the choice of whether something is a “should” or a life-giving action. And through prayer, God will be part of that choice. Advent is all about prayer, reflection and anticipated life, right? Maybe this Advent stuff isn’t so bad after all.

Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister explained this idea so much better than I am in a December 1989 Catholic Update entitled “Christmas Watch: What Are We Waiting For?” They said, “‘Come Lord Jesus’ means that all of Christian history has to live with an expectation – to live out of an inner longing or emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. For the fulfillment we await is always to come.” Many of the expectations we have will never be met. We are not supposed to have everything figured out. We don’t have to have a plan. What we can do is live a life of prayer. And hope. Because no matter what we do, or feel we SHOULD be doing, Lord Jesus is coming.
-Kristine Rooney

(It is an honor and a pleasure to be able to share this post from Kris Rooney. Kris oversees Adult Faith Enrichment and Evangilization at St. Kateri Parish in Niskayuna.)

Advent in Song

Night_Sky_Stars_Trees_02You may be reading this early in the morning. If so, you might be able to go outside and gaze up at the sky.

Is there anything more prayerful than the night sky? Inky blue or almost black, clusters of stars, bursts of light, the faint glow of distant nebulas, the steady glow of what must be a planet, versus the twinkle of the stars. I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to fall to my knees in prayer. It is so peaceful.

Even if you read this in the full light of day, you know those stars are out there; you just can’t see them. (Just like you cannot see the sun when the stars are out!)

This hymn is a powerful invitation to Advent prayer for me. Creator of the Stars of Night, also known as Conditor Alme Siderum. I hope that you can stop for just a few moments to listen – and to pray. This is the simple waiting and the simple hope of Advent. May this peace find you today.

Waiting in Hope

elsalvador“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave… Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” – Jean Donovan

On this day in 1980, those known as the Four Church Women of El Salvador were martyred. Ursuline Sister, Dorothy Kazel, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, and lay missioner, Jean Donovan ministered to the poor in El Salvador, during a most treacherous time in that land. For their efforts, uniting with the very least of God’s people, who were apparently a threat to those in power. For this they were summarily executed.

The opening quotation, from Jean Donovan, sums up a powerful theme of Advent. Patience and hope in the face of the worst times. We tend to associate this kind of thing more with Lent, but make no mistake, this what Advent calls us to.

Following Christ is often the most unreasonable thing we can do, yet we are called to follow him. Perhaps you will reflect on the words that Donovan left for us, reminding us to look at our conscience before we turn away from the challenging, the uncomfortable, and other difficult moments we face.

Today, let our Advent prayers root us in prayerful hope, patience, and witness, a time of Holy Waiting in the darkness, knowing that the Light will come.