Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learn to be like a child

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

At the time of Jesus, it would have been a great honor to have your children blessed by an important rabbi.  Why then did Jesus' disciples try to prevent children from approaching him?  Perhaps, by their confused logic, if children found it too easy to approach Jesus, his importance would have been in question.

But Jesus would have none of it.  He was not distracted by his own importance.  He wanted people to know and follow his Father's teaching.Therefore, it was important for him to bless children, and to let the next generation experience through him the compassion and generosity of God. Jesus' reaction to his disciples protectiveness is clear: God is never too important or too busy to bless us.  We have only to ask.

In the same way, Christians should be so approachable, especially for the poor,  that we witness to the openness of Jesus.  When we take time for the people society thinks unimportant,  we become good news for others.  Our willingness, even desire, to spend time with "the little ones" of this world, challenges others to reassess their values and their priorities.  When St. Francis kissed the leper, he was transformed. More important, he changed how people thought about lepers.

Br. William Short, an important Franciscan scholar, reminds us that at the time of St. Francis, "Those suffering from leprosy in the thirteenth century lived a radical poverty. They were “dead,” with funeral services celebrated over their still living bodies. Their property was confiscated; their family ties, friendship and social relations were broken. They lived by the gifts of others." (William Short) After the funeral service, lepers were ritually dead and could be treated as objects. That St. Francis treated lepers with affection and love was a radical counter cultural act on his part. Lepers are not dead things. They are people in need of care. 

Take a moment today to think of the "lepers" you've known. Perhaps some of them are in your own family. They are the people others reject, dismiss, even ridicule  to make themselves feel better. Maybe you are the "leper" in your family or at work because you are kind to and defend the rights of immigrants, the poor or the mentally ill.  Remember, when we are open, vulnerable and transparent, like children, the Kingdom of God belongs to us. What more could we ask?

Friday, August 12, 2011

"I gave you a land that you had not tilled and cities that you had not built, to dwell in; you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant." Jos 24:13

How much God does for us each day!  How many gifts do we continue to receive!  In the United States: clean air, clean water, more than enough food, and so much more.  Most of us are also blessed with good friends and family who understand and support us, especially when we are lost or upset.  

Now we have only to learn to share God's gifts. As Jesus says very clearly  in the 12th chapter of Luke's gospel: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."   Bread for the World reports that almost 16,000 children die every day from hunger, and this in a world that produces enough food to feed everyone.  20% of the world consumes 70% of its food, while in the United States we spend 40 billion dollars a year on diet products, most of which don't work. (Business Week)   These kinds of contradictions not only hurt our head, they send a message to the rest of the world about the United States that suggests we are more concerned about our personal appearance than the health of people around the world.

Today's reading from from Joshua, therefore, not only demands that we be grateful, but that we work together to find ways to distribute God's gifts more equitably.There are any number of agencies and philanthropists trying to do this, (CF), not the least of which is  Catholic Relief Services.

Today I suggest we take an extra moment or three to pause in gratitude for all those working for social change, and then, before eating, ask God for the insight and courage to discern a personal path to help feed hungry people.  When we take for granted the gifts of creation, especially nourishing food and clean water, we dishonor the God who so graciously provides them for us.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Forgiveness -- Feast of St Clare

Although the Franciscan lectionary offers different readings for the feast of St Clare, I want to comment on the readings most of you will encounter either at mass or in your personal study.

Today, we remember Joshua and his Jewish sisters and brothers as they enter the promised land.  Once again God stops the flow of water, this time in the Jordan river, so that the community of believers can cross safely not only into a new land, but a new life.  Having wandered for forty years, they are finally "home". The joy they shared must have been overwhelming.

But I wonder how the friends of Moses felt? Were they angry, confused, hurt?  After all, it was Moses who led them out of Egypt, but he would die before entering the promised land.  Somehow it all seems unfair. In Numbers 20, Moses is upset with God. He and his people, having wandered in the desert for forty years,  are thirsty again. God hears Moses' cry and tells him to speak to the rock when he and the people are thirsty, but Moses strikes the rock twice.  Is Moses being punished for striking the rock rather than speaking to it as God told him?  Or is his fault deeper than this? Prophets like Moses are charged to speak and do exactly what God commands. No more and no less.  Moses fails God and his people by acting out of his anger and dismay.  Though Moses' punishment seems harsh, the text can be the occasion for a good question or two.

Do we lash out at one another or speak behind others backs when we are hurt or confused? Or do we pray for the grace to seek God's path for us and a just solution through open and honest conversation?  Can we share our feelings and opinions without blaming others? Are we committed to ask God for clear direction in life and then to act upon that guidance? 

Perhaps today we might ask for the grace to let go of some hurt, some resentment we might be carrying against a friend, a family member or even an enemy, especially if it is getting in the way of listening to God. Offering others forgiveness frees them and us.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Starting something new

"Be willing to be a beginner every single morning."
--Meister Eckhart

Transitions are always difficult.  In fifty years as a friar, I have moved 18 times.  Every move, even across the street from one friary to another, is stressful.  But like certain foods, some stress is good.  It is good to decide what one needs to take from one place to another. It is good to let go of notes, books, stuff that one hasn't looked at or referenced in years.  In fact, I have a simple practice each year around the feast of St. Francis.  I look in my closet and grab anything that I have not worn in a year and give it to a local clothing bank.  Not only does this practice clean out my closet, it cleanses my spirit, and let's me try to live Meister Eckhart's challenge to be a beginner every morning.

These days I am sorting and packing for a move to a new friary and ministry in Connecticut, and I am trying to do it consciously and intentionally, i.e. prayerfully and gently.  I am trying not to rush; I am thinking about the friars with whom I will soon be living, and I am taking time each evening to be grateful for my last nine years of life and ministry in Boston, as well as beginning to prepare retreat and mission talks for my new ministry.  

This last task will be the focus of this blog.  As I hear something challenging, read something intriguing, meet someone fascinating, I will share it here in the hope that it will lift your spirit and occasion some response that I can reflect on and even use in my new ministry.  Simple enough, I think, and hopefully interesting enough to get you to follow this blog regularly.