An invitation

act-in-faith-not-fear(This reflection is on the readings for the day before Advent begins, the very last day of the liturgical year, and appears in Give Us This Day. Please see the end of the post for further details.)

Our world seems to run on the fuel of fear. Simply watching or reading the news can fill our tanks with enough anxiety-provoking material to keep us running for days. Work and family concerns, fretfulness over jobs and money, disquiet about health, and apprehension over other things can turn us into nervous wrecks. Constant worry is exhausting, and that exhaustion typically leads to more angst.

Jesus offers a clear warning that might be easy for anxious people to miss. Do we think we’re off the hook because we are not out “carousing” or getting drunk? Not so fast. It seems that the “anxieties of daily life” are on the watch list as well, and that is a net likely to catch many.

It could be easy to take Jesus’ words Continue reading

Worry, toil, distraction, bread

It’s been 3 weeks since Easter. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to immerse myself in these weeks where we live the resurrection in a particular way after the 40 days of Lent.

breadDuring Lent, we are in a season of repentance as we make our way to the cross with Jesus. For me, I am also in a season of unrivaled busy-ness. Work is busier and I also have some (some?) side projects that I’m working every Lent. By time Easter Monday rolls around my only words are “Jesus is risen, indeed he is truly risen! Me, on the other hand, I’ve collapsed.”

Today’s Gospel has shaken me from my “resurrection slumber” quite powerfully when Jesus says:
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life…

This leaves me with a question about how many of us choose to live… Does our toil for our living, and our desire for a “secure future” keep us from Christ? I know that such worry and toil distracts me on a more regular basis than I care to admit. What about you?

Underachieving by design

'Interesting. . . I see you have a degree in 'Under Achieving'. . .'Another day in Lent, another Gospel challenge. Today – underachieving by design! Yes, you are thinking, “what is she on about now?” You know me, sometimes I like to kid – even, perhaps especially, during Lent.

Achievement. Our world seems pretty much built around it. I worked in the media business for 27 years. My first job was as what was then called (does it even exist now?) “sales assistant.” What did I do? I was a glorified secretary, working for a salesperson. In 1980, this was more likely a man than a woman. If you did your job really well, you would be promoted to – wow, I can’t even remember the title. In was the over-glorified secretary I guess, because you worked for the sales manager, and you supervised the other sales assistants. Yes, I did get this job and I was an incredible disaster at it. At that age I did not have a clue about servant leadership, or that such a thing existed – I was just not ready for any of it.

Today’s Gospel is very clear, if you seek greatness, be willing to serve, not lord your greatness over people. In this passage from Matthew, the mother of the sons of Zebedee approaches Jesus and Continue reading

Step up to the talent show

talent-show-logo-1Have you ever considered entering a talent show? Not me… Oh no, I am far too afraid, and I am pretty sure that if I sang in front of anyone, they would all run, fleeing from the sound.  Public speaking? That I can do with ease, thanks be to God, but acting or singing or dancing on a stage? Which part of no do you not understand?

I bring this up because there has been an itch that I could not quite scratch, since last Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew, the Parable of the Talents. You know, like the kind of itch in the middle part of you back, you can’t quite reach it.

What do you think about that Gospel? If reading blogs and Facebook offers any insight, it is tough Continue reading

Stay, watch, remain, pray

1932412_10152279350617438_613759620_nWe are almost there, these final days leading to Easter triumph and resurrection. But first we must walk the Via Crucis with Jesus, suffering and dying. How will you walk with Jesus this week?

Perhaps the better question is this, how will we each stay with Jesus this week? The comic to the left is cute and funny enough, but then again, it is not funny at all. How do we fail to stay awake? How do we continually find ways to distract ourselves? How do we avoid what must be done?

As for me, I can name many ways in which I do not watch and pray, far too many to enumerate for you today. Yet, Jesus continues to ask me to stay, to watch, to pray, remain in faithful vigil. So once again, I make my meek attempts.

May your steps this week be blessed with the grace attentiveness to and hope in Christ.

Vulgarem panem, sacri panis – ordinary bread, sacred bread

1147637_Plate_with_lace_border_25_cm_5110bd238b2abOh, those special, special dishes, the fine china. You know, the kind that only comes out on special occasions, right? If you happen to own some Royal Copenhagen china, you know about the special.  You see, this Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica is the world’s most expensive china, with one place setting costing almost $7000! If I had that china, I would be afraid to touch it, let alone use it!

I had the privilege of meeting Greg Boyle in LA, October 2010.

I had the privilege of meeting Greg Boyle in LA, October 2010.

Recently I heard Gregory Boyle SJ, a Jesuit priest renown for his work with gang members in Los Angeles at Homeboy Industries; he was being interviewed by Krista Tippett  for her radio program, On Being. (Here is a link to the page for that program and the podcast.) Fr. Greg was talking about some of his “homies,” as he calls them, having a meal together. Seven former gang rivals, sitting around a one kitchen, watching a turkey cook on Christmas (yes, I know – wrong holiday!), that they could share. And you can be assured that there was no Flora Danica in that household! Who knows, they might have eaten off of mismatched cheap dishes, or even paper plates. Yet, the meal they shared was very sacred.

the-last-supper-master-of-portilloThis absurd pairing of opposites such as $7000 for one place setting, and a bunch of reformed gang members eating turkey together, reminded me of what we are doing as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The sacred or sacri, and the ordinary, or vulgarem. Just hearing the Latin word for ordinary makes me recoil. But why? Are sacred and ordinary simply opposites that are mutually exclusive?

I was thinking about this most precious of all meals, the most special, and the most sacred meal of the sacri panis, or sacred bread that is the Body of Christ that we partake of at Eucharist. Something else that Fr. Boyle said was on my mind as I pondered. He was discussing that turkey dinner when he said:

“… I think we’re afraid of the incarnation and part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated and cost of millions and cast of thousands or something, I don’t know. So we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’ hand and we’ve replaced it with a chalice because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup, never mind that Jesus didn’t use a chalice?

So what could be more sacred than seven orphans, enemies, rivals, sitting in a kitchen waiting for a turkey to be done? Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends. And that’s the incarnation, I think.”

I’m not sure if Jesus loses any sleep or not, and I do believe that the Eucharist is absolutely sacred. And I also believe that if we decouple the sacred from the ordinary entirely, what we end up with is Flora Danica china, to be used, if we are rich enough to have it, maybe once a year.

What we find in this mass that recalls the institution of the Eucharist, is something supremely sacred… and remarkably ordinary. In John’s Gospel that we hear on Thursday night, we hear about a Jesus who knew that things were going to happen. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine.

What we also find is tying a towel around his waist, and bending low to wash the feet of his disciples. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine, but also at this moment, fully human.

Sacri. Vulgarem. Sacred. Ordinary.

At the end of the footwashing, when Jesus is dressed again, and reclining at table, he reminds the apostles that:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

So what are we to do? Fall down to worship Jesus? Remember his holiness and his might and power? Or do we serve him by serving others?

Perhaps it is important to pause here and consider three things…

First of all, let us consider Jesus as sacred. Lord of Lord, King of Kings. He is our everything, our Alpha and our Omega. He is the Lord on High, without equal, Jesus Christ is God. And God is very sacred.

When we think of God, of Jesus, as our King, however, we might we well reminded that this is not the kingship of any earthly monarchy, as we know it, but something new and different. Our reverence to God is essential; how we express that may not be the same cowering homage that earthly monarchs demand.

Power can be wielded as a force that cripples, or as a force that serves. In the case of Jesus, with his towel around his waist, this force is powerful; it is love in action.
What is the Eucharist if not love in action?

Two – we might want to spend some time with ordinary Jesus. This Lord and King who gets down on his hands and knees to wash our filthy feet. At this time, he is a man, and a most remarkable one. He comes to clean our feet.

jesus-washing-peters-feet-by-sieger-koderHave you ever had your feet washed on Holy Thursday? This is no trip to the manicure/pedicure salon, I can assure you. While it can be a very nice thing, the pedicure is very ordinary – or vulgarem. Foot washing on Holy Thursday is the opposite – it is sacred.

500x335xFeet.jpg.pagespeed.ic.6exvq7rjYPI can recall many instances of getting my feet washed on Holy Thursday where I felt uncomfortable and disarmed in ways I still have trouble describing. It brought to mind memories to mind of extravagant gifts of kindness received from others. The kind of gifts that on the surface prompt us to want to “make good,” and repay in some fashion.

Yet, our fully human Jesus, who has offered this gift, asks us to mirror both his humanity and divinity, by not simply returning it to him as obsequious homage, but by living in the same way. Jesus is not looking for ordinary – or vulgarem – repayment.

3696balanceThird, we are offered chance to reflect on how lopsided our love of Christ can be; too focused on service alone, and not enough intimate contact with Jesus. Conversely we can spend too much time on our knees and not enough time being kind to one another.
How do we respond, living in the holy tension of service and love, love and service? If we do not worship Christ in our hearts, if we do not receive him in the Sacred Bread that is Eucharist, how are we fed for the journey?

It is this mix of sacred and ordinary, contemplative and active, the reception of gift balanced by the giving of gift, which is the challenge of this night -and of our Christian lives. Referring back to what I said above about repayment, Jesus is not seeking this. No, we are to be transformed in a most sacred manner, and then to go transform others, as we are continually retransformed ourselves.

HolyThursday2011_5This bread that we eat, this ordinary bread or vulgarem panem, sacred bread or sacri panem. It is in the intersection of sacred and ordinary that we meet Christ our Lord – and one another. This blog is called “there will be bread,” for a reason… a very important reason.

Please, let us eat together, living in love and service, in ways that are completely ordinary, and always very sacred. Sacred and ordinary are not mutually exclusive, but that are all about mutuality, as Jesus models for us.

Please, let us eat together, not just on this special and sacred night, but for every ordinary day, sharing our vulgarem panem, our sacri panis, and our lives.

Jerusalem, our destiny

Jerusalem+020We had our Hosannas on Sunday. With our palms we were with Jesus as he made his entry into Jerusalem.

Not exactly the mighty king that many were looking for, he entered the holy city while riding an ass; this was a most undignified way to travel. It must have been a disappointment for many, and a source of derision for those who already loathed this itinerant preacher. Yet there were many, cheering him on with their cries of “Hosanna!”

Dominus Flevit Church, Mount of Olives, Israel, photo credit: F. Rossi Szpylczyn,no unauthorized distribution.

Dominus Flevit Church, Mount of Olives, Israel, photo credit: F. Rossi Szpylczyn,no unauthorized distribution.

Before he went to Jerusalem, Jesus was across the valley on the Mount of Olives. It is said that in the very spot where he looked over and foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem, he wept. This church in the above photo was built on theret. The name of the church is Dominus Flevit; it means, Jesus wept.

Destruction was inevitable, the death of Jesus had to come; he knew this, yet he carried on. The same is true for all of us.

Is death inevitable? Yes. What about new life? New life ready for us in Christ. But we must “fix our eyes” on the city of Jerusalem, with all that it entails.

One of my favorite songs for this time of year is, Jerusalem, My Destiny, by Rory Cooney. I always think that the words that send us off into Holy Week in a most particular way. They are are the words that send us to death. These are the words that send us to new life in the Risen Christ. It is our destiny and our hope – and we do not go alone.

We cannot look away, as the song tells us, we cannot turn away. Holy week is upon us; our destiny is clear, so off we go…