The Experience Bias

Deep within the heart of man is a desire to be normal, at least most of the time. While there are exceptions for those who celebrate being different, most prefer seeing themselves as normal compared to the larger grouping.

In counseling sessions, it is not uncommon to literally hear that question, “Am I normal?”.  Which usually means please tell me I am not too far off the grid that others inhabit; or, tell me I don’t have to change too much; or, tell me there is not something really wrong with me.

These questions presuppose that the person being asked these questions is a trusted person that is someone “normal” themselves and therefore, likely knows what normal is. There is a comfort in being told by such a person, that we are, indeed, normal because a respected normal person says so.

Hmmm, but what if they aren’t. What if they have biases themselves and their advice for us is based on those biases.

It would not be uncommon to choose someone who, we know, has experienced the same things that bring us to them for help. Surely that would-be a plus, wouldn’t it? Logically, yes it would. But, what if you are a person who celebrates your different-ness and they are not. Wouldn’t their solution be different from a solution that would work for us?

Isn’t it normal to hear someone explain a problem they want help with and the counselor filter that experience through their own experience?  Yes, it would. So, the real question for us is, “How do we know we have chosen a counselor who is right for us and hopefully, free of biases and capable of giving us good, solid direction”?

Ultimately, we must have faith that the good Lord has led us to the right person. Scripture reminds us that ‘we live by faith and not by sight’. But, if after a few sessions we find ourselves unpeaceful or unsettled in the presence of the counselor then it may be time to look elsewhere.

God is good, and wants us to feel good about ourselves. Our faith in Him will sooner or later come to fruition and we will end up with the correct person for us. Just remember He paints our path to Him with jagged lines that lead us straight. We must be willing to walk those jagged lines in faith and with the courage to stand up for ourselves to move on to another counselor if need be.

Precious in the Eyes of the God, Homily

Homily, May 13&14, Cyc A, 5th Sun of Easter, Mother’s Day: Precious in the Eyes of the God

On behalf of Msgr Kenneally and his staff here at St William, I’d like to wish all the mothers here today (a day early) a Happy Mother’s Day! I know he has a blessing planned for each of you later in the Mass.

As his famous saying goes, none of us would be here if it weren’t for our mothers.  And, this being the month of May, I have to wonder if the Church itself would have endured for so long without the influence of our Heavenly Mother Mary.

Our First Reading is near and dear to my own heart because it describes where the role of Deacons came from. I would like to tell you that the creation of the Diaconate was a burning bush experience, where God came down and said, “Let there be Deacons”.

I would like to tell you that, but I can’t. It was more low-tech than that. It appears they were called into being to solve the problem of complaints against the Apostles for perceived neglect of the daily distribution of food to certain segments of the community.

With tongue in cheek, I could say, not a lot has changed over 2000 years. Squeaking wheels still get greased even today.

If you remember the homily last weekend, Msgr painted a great picture of God’s desire for our abundance. I’d like to continue that emphasis this week.

The reading that really struck me is the Second Reading taken from the First Letter of Peter.  In this Epistle we hear reassuring verses and phrases such as…

We are called living cornerstones of the Church,

We are to be built into a holy priesthood.

We are called a chosen race, a holy nation, a people the Lord claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works of the one who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

And, we are called “precious in the eyes of God”.  Apparently, we are more valuable than we thought we were.  We are cherished, highly esteemed, and loved in abundance.

With all of that, we must ask why? Why does God love us so much? Is it because of something that we have done?  No…

Well, to answer a question with a question, why do we love our children so much?  Why are our children so precious to us? Is it because of what they do?  No…  Sure, there are times that we are proud of our children’s accomplishments.

But, we love them even without their accomplishments. Shhhh, don’t tell them.

When you first held your children as infants, looked into that small face, you fell head over heels in love with that child. You could not believe you had so much love welling up in you.

And, that’s not just the moms, but also the dads, and others who may have never had a child of their own. Yet, the baby did not do anything to elicit that outpouring of love.

Why, then did you love that baby?  Why do you love your children – at every stage?  Even when they try our souls. You love them for who they are, not for what they do.  Your child is a unique person loving you back in their own way.  You see God’s love in your child.  You see yourself, your spouse, you see a reflection of God’s beauty in your child.

Now, back to the original question. Why does God love us?  Why are we so precious to Him?  He loves us for the same reason, for who we are, unique reflections of His love in the world.  He loves us because He sees in each of us the love He has for His Son, Jesus.

He loves us because each of us is a unique reflection of the Love that became flesh in Jesus Christ.

So, let us reflect on who Jesus is? Jesus is the rock that has been rejected by the world, but has become the cornerstone of that world.  We are the living cornerstones, too, and as such, we are the Church, built by the spirit of God.

Jesus is the great high priest who was rejected by the elites of His day, thrown out of the Temple, and crucified outside the city.  We are rejected by the intellectually arrogant of our day who control so much of our lives and how we see the world.

We too, are thrown out and laughed at as naive remnants of an ignorant age.  But, we remain here anyway.  We are a holy priesthood, people carrying on the priestly ministry by making God present to others and others present to God. We do that daily by being who we are, without a lot of hoopla or credit.

Jesus is the Light of the World, the one who dispels the darkness of sin.  We are the people of the light.  We are called to bring hope and light to a world living in fear and darkness and confusion.

Yes. We are precious to God because He sees His Son at work in us, and that work takes place gradually over our lifetime as our Pope recently pointed out.

Therefore, let us be aware of, and attuned to, our dignity as children of God.  Let us treat ourselves and each other with the respect a child of God deserves. Let us lay down our poor opinions of ourselves, our feelings of failure, our feelings of not doing enough, and unworthiness in the face of God’s overwhelming.

We teach our children to respect themselves.  We need to respect ourselves as well at every age. There are times that we are tempted to go along with a philosophy of life that calls for actions that do not encourage us to be our best selves.

Out of respect for ourselves, out of respect for the dignity that God has given us in calling us to be children of God, out of respect for the precious image of His Son that you and I have been called to bring to the world, we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Yes again. We are precious to the Lord.  We should hold our heads up above the everyday life around us.  We should have enough self-respect to avoid what everyone else says is acceptable in this modern-day, but we know is unacceptable in any day.

In the Southern colloquialism, we should stand tall with the Lord.  For we are the Church, we are the royal priesthood, we are the people whom God has chosen to bring light to all who live in darkness in all its forms.

May the choices we make in life be only those that reflect the dignity we have been ‘gifted’ with by the Lord of life.

On this Mother’s Day let us remember our moms and how precious they are in our eyes for their love and care of us.

Let us also remember, “We are precious in the eyes of God”.

Jesus Went All The Way

Your daily Gospel reflection…   April 22, 2017

SATURDAY IN THE OCTAVE OF EASTER, YEAR I,  (MARK 16:9-15)

Friends, in today’s passage Jesus commissions his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all. A great lesson of the Resurrection is that the path of salvation has been opened to everyone. Paul told us that “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of slave…accepting even death, death on a cross.”

In a word, Jesus went all the way down, journeying into pain, despair, alienation, even ‘godforsakenness’. Why? In order to reach all of those who had wandered from God. Then, in light of the Resurrection, the first Christians came to know that, even as we run as fast as we can away from the Father, all the way to ‘godforsakenness’, we are running into the arms of the Son. The Resurrection shows that Christ can gather back to the Father everyone whom he has embraced through his suffering love.

So let us not domesticate the still stunning and disturbing message of Resurrection. Rather, let us allow it to unnerve us, change us, and set us on fire.

From Bishop Robert Barron

Death Is A Painful Loss

Dying is a gradual diminishing and final vanishing over the horizon of life. When we watch a sailboat leaving port and moving toward the horizon, it becomes smaller and smaller until we can no longer see it. But we must trust that someone is standing on a faraway shore seeing that same sailboat become larger and larger until it reaches its new harbor. Death is a painful loss. When we return to our homes after a burial, our hearts are in grief. But when we think about the One standing at the other shore eagerly waiting to welcome our beloved friend into a new home, a smile can break through our tears.
Henri Nouwen

The Transfiguration, Homily

Homily, Mar 11&12, Cyc A, 2nd Lent, The Transfiguration

Well, we’re moving right along on our journey through Lent. By now we should have decided and implemented what we are going to give up for Lent. Right? In my day things were a lot simpler: We gave up sweets, Cokes, caffeine or hitting our younger brother. But, we’re a lot more sophisticated today.

For instance, we can take Father Jim’s suggestion and give up texting on our cell phones. When I asked him several days ago, if I could use his name in vain with his suggestion, he said sure, in fact you can add giving up cell phones altogether.

I said, wow, that’s a little harsh, Father. So help me, the very next day, there was an article on the international news cycle about Pope Francis suggesting we all give up our phones and start carrying and reading our bibles.

I’m not sure who is following who, the Pope – Father Jim or Father Jim – the Pope.

In today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John are actually exposed to another epiphany of Jesus. They see Him in a different way, a different context. In that mysterious meeting on the mountain with Moses and Elijah Peter, James, and John are shown Jesus’ place in the overall mix of Salvation History.

We often hear the phrase, “The Law and the Prophets” used to describe God’s relationship with His people in the OT. In the Transfiguration, we have Moses representing the Law, and Elijah representing the Prophets. Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is shown discussing with Moses and Elijah the foundations of Israel’s faith.

Jesus trusted completely in His Father’s plan for mankind with a faith that recognized His dependence on His Father. And, by the way, that is the same sort of faith we are called to embrace, recognizing our dependence on the goodness and mercy of God.

Jesus believed the scriptures that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise, and He knew they referred to Him. The Transfiguration event, especially His Father speaking to him from the cloud, strengthened His resolve to let God’s plan take effect in Him. We are called to have faith to do the same thing with our lives, to let God’s plan take effect in us.

No matter what we achieve in this life, we will never be our best selves without recognizing our need for a relationship with our creator.

Looking at our First Reading today from Genesis, we see God calling Abraham to that same faith in Him. Can you imagine God calling an elderly man with no children and a barren wife to leave the land of his kinsfolk and move to a distant place?

Then sweetening the pot, we hear God promising to make of him a great nation and assuring him that He would bless him. It must have taken a great deal of faith to pass that information along to his kin.

To put that into today’s world, that would be like Msgr showing up one Sunday and announcing that he heard from God and we are to trust him and move to the north end of the Island. It’s that drastic.

So, this first reading gives us a clear picture that God has been calling His creation to this level of faith for a long, long time, thousands of years.

The first reading concludes with an interesting final verse. God tells Abram, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. I think within that verse we can find a nugget of truth to use during this Lenten season.

If you will allow me a little fundamentalism for the sake of Lent, we can use that thought for something to curtail during this season.

Let me paraphrase that verse. When God says, “I will bless those who bless you”, He is saying, “I will be good to those who are good to you”. When He says, “I will curse those who curse you”, He is saying, “I will not be good to those who are not good to you”.

If we can get a grip on that idea, then it frees us from retaliating against those who have treated us poorly. It frees us from the internal feeling that rises up within us that we must ‘get even’ with someone who has done us harm.

We can assure ourselves that we don’t have to restore justice in our small part of the universe because God has said He will handle it.

It is an automatic promise from God to Abraham to Jesus to us. The only way we can stop that promise from happening is to tell God to forego the promise as Jesus did while hanging on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.

Well, there IS another way to stop it. We can do what we normally do, retaliate ourselves, which in effect is telling God, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this one”. The truth is we should want God to handle it, He does it so much better than we do, and when He does, His actions are also redemptive for the other person. Our actions are almost always, not so much.

When you think about it, we already lean in that direction anyway when we refer to Karma. When someone finally gets what is coming to them, we say, “Karma is a tough force”. Or, we use phrases like, “What goes around comes around”. Both of those are a generic forms of, “We reap what we sow”, which is also scriptural.

Let me suggest adding this concept to our list of traditional things to give up for Lent. We can take Father Jim’s suggestion and give up texting on our cell phones, or the Pope’s suggestion to give up cell phones altogether. We can throw in a few random acts of kindness, and give up retaliating against those who do us harm.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we call out to Jesus for the courage to have faith and trust in God. We don’t know exactly how He is going to answer that, but we do know that if we trust in Him, He will find a way to use us to reflect His image in the world and thereby include us in a small way in His plan of salvation in our world.

 

Stop Just Reading Your Bible

“Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart.” Psalm 119:34 (NLT)

I have a request today: Stop reading your Bible. Does that shock you? Relieve you? Make you angry at worst? Curious at best?

Read on, and see what I mean by this request.

There have been many days in my Christian journey when God was reduced to something on my to-do list. Somewhere along the way, I picked up an unwritten checklist of sorts explaining what “good Christians” are supposed to do:

Pray.

Read your Bible.

Go to church.

Don’t cuss.

Be nice.

Being the rule-following girl I am, I subscribed to the good things on that list and waited with great expectations to receive the zap of contentment and happiness good Christian girls are supposed to exude.

But then something felt wrong with me. I still felt restless. I still reacted in anger. I still felt a bit hollow.

I was going through all the motions but didn’t feel connected to Jesus. Others around me seemed very connected. They would talk of being “moved by the Spirit.” They would hear from God Himself. They would clap their hands and shout “Amen” in the middle of a sermon that sounded like Greek to me.

I often felt like a weightless soul grasping at the air, hoping to somehow snag this Jesus that was just out of reach. Have you ever been there?

This nagging sense creeps in that you’ll never get it — that you don’t have what it takes to be a Christian. That’s where I was. I lived there for a long time until someone challenged me to stop simply reading my Bible because it was a thing on my Christian checklist. Instead, they challenged me to experience God. To know God.

In other words, I needed to look at the words in the Bible as a love letter. God’s love letter to a broken-down girl. A love letter not meant to simply be read … but a love letter meant to be lived.

I won’t lie. It took a while.

It took many days of sitting down with my Bible while praying gut-honest prayers. I told God I wasn’t connecting. I told Him I wanted to understand, just like the psalmist in our key verse, Psalm 119:34.

I asked Him to help me. I begged Him to help me. Finally, one verse came alive to me. I literally felt moved when I read it. I memorized it and thought about it all day long. All week long. Maybe all month long.

I was overjoyed. I had a verse. A verse where Jesus spoke tenderly and clearly and specifically to me. It was Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (NIV)

Slowly, I added more verses. Day by day. Chapter by chapter. And eventually my Bible became my greatest treasure, my love letter.

Now, every day I open up God’s Word with great expectation and intentionally look for my verse for that day. Usually one verse among the many I read during my devotion time grabs my heart, and I know it’s meant just for the day ahead. And then I attempt to live that verse out in some way, that very day.

When I make the connection between what happens in my life that day and why I need that verse, I experience God. I see Him active in my life, and I become even more deeply aware of His constant presence.

I’m sure some Bible scholars would probably take issue with my simplistic approach, but it sure has helped me.

So, back to my original statement. Stop reading your Bible. In other words, stop simply reading it because you have to cross it off the Christian checklist.

Instead, read it with great expectations of connecting more deeply and living more authentically with God.

© 2017 LYSA TERKEURST ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Do I Really Need The Church?

We sometimes hear people say they really don’t need to go to church to find God. They can find Him looking up to the night sky and feel a closeness to Him in that environment. Others will tell you that they live good lives and give to the poor and less fortunate quite well without a church association. Still others claim they had bad experiences in mainline churches and feel less conflicted with their own pursuits.

What are we to say to comments like that? We could say good for you, I hope you continue to be happy with that approach. Trying to convince someone otherwise is really a chase after the wind. Hopefully, they will find their fulfillment in their own way.

For most of us, more is needed. A good church creates an environment for its members to grow in. They should expect to receive positive messages on a regular basis that will lead them to grow in their spirituality into real life examples of their God right here on earth. How personal that experience with their God becomes depends on their individual desire and effort.

It helps if members understand and believe that a church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. With that attitude, they will more likely be open to receive the support and input that they need along the way.

Worshiping with the same people on a regular basis also provides a sense of being a member of something larger and more involved than trying to worship alone.

Being a member of a church with other members also exposes us to the various models of church. It opens us to diversity and expands our understanding of more of the whole of our God. Many people find it amazing that there are different models of church right there in their own church.

Some feel closer to God in the institutional model where creeds and beliefs are celebrated openly, and there is a progression of leadership. They feel more confident in a pastor who reports to someone higher. This can be called the order model and they feel more confident in that setting.

There is another model called the community model where they feel closer to God among His people. There is a confidence and a security available to them that they need to feel God’s presence. We know He told us that where two or three are gathered, there He is among them. This group sees Him in others.

Another model is referred to as the sacramental model where the signs and symbols quicken a sense of His presence for them. They want to have an active part in the service themselves. This is called the participation model.

Hearing God’s word proclaimed strongly in the service is another model that brings some people to feel God is present among them. They value His written word and will memorize portions of scripture that really speak to them. This is called the scripture model. They come alive in the service when scripture is read and enumerated.

Finally, there is the suffering servant model where people feel God’s presence most strongly when they are physically serving others. They will go to great lengths to serve others in need. They feel like they are the hands of God reaching out to help others.

All of these models are valid. All of them are authentic. Each represents one aspect of Jesus’ life when He walked the earth. None of us can faithfully live all of these models like Jesus did. We can represent one primary model and a portion of another. That’s why being in a church with all models represented and active is our best bet. A church is therefore at its strongest when all five models are present and at its weakest when only one model predominates.

Can we find God outside of an organized church as we discussed in the beginning? It is possible, but it is surely easier to find Him and worship Him in a church with all five models active and faithful. God is God and we are not. Recognizing the fullness of God and our inability to faithfully represent Him all by ourselves is a poverty of spirit needed to become the most that we can be, as pointed out by the sermon on the mount.

The Epiphany of the Lord, a Homily

Homily, Jan 07-08, Cyc A, The Epiphany of the Lord

Today we celebrate the feast of The Epiphany of the Lord. When I was growing up we use to call it “Little Christmas” & the trees did not come down until after Epiphany, even if it was a fire hazard.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew the reading describes the visit of the Magi to the Christ child as He laid in the manger.  The Magi, who were most likely astronomers/astrologers, came from far away after “seeing His star in the heavens”.

Tradition says they came from India, Arabia and Persia. Symbolically, they represent Peoples from all over the world.

The definition of the word, Epiphany, as you know, means a sudden revelation about the nature or meaning of something. It can be that “aha moment” when we realize a new truth or that quiet moment when the still, small voice breaks into our consciousness and we see things differently.

For example: A number of years ago, I was strongly opposed to abortion, glibly proclaiming “all life is precious”. Yet, at the same time I was strongly in favor of capital punishment. One day, out of nowhere, that dichotomy blinked into my mind and I realized that if all life was precious, then in God’s eyes the life of a killer was precious, as well. I had to get over my belief in capital punishment. Yes, it took some mental gymnastics to get there.

This feast marks the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles.   Jesus’ presence in the world is now out in the open for all, not just the Jews.

You could say the Magi were both involved in Epiphany and had an epiphany themselves.  They saw something they did not know existed, and invested the time and effort to investigate. Can you imagine climbing on camels and riding 100’s of miles thru desert?

Throughout our lives, ideally, we have numerous epiphanies as we discover truth that opens our minds or changes the way we think about something.

When we discover a truth that changes the way we think, we can be moved to make concrete adjustments.

I believe that is ultimately, what God is after in our lives.

It reminds me of the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  When God sees we are ready for the truth, He sends someone to share it with us.

I don’t think He wants us to be caught up in liking to hear new things just for the sake of novelty.  Scripture negatively refers to the Greeks liking to have their ears tickled with new ideas. (Acts 17, 21)

So, when we discover a new truth about the Lord, we are not to stop there, we are to consider what actions that truth calls us to make.

One action we can take is to share that truth with others.  Since that truth is about the Lord then that sharing becomes evangelization.

We know the Lord calls us to spread His good news to those who have not heard it in a way that brings about a response.

Often, we think of evangelization in simplistic terms like leaving those little small paper bibles on windowsills in public places. While that is a form of evangelism, what I am referring to is really so much more. It is sharing with another person what we have experienced about the Lord Jesus.  And, when you think about it, that’s all we really have to share that’s truly authentic, everything else is 3rd party hearsay.

Another interesting point about this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, is that it was predicted in the Book of Isaiah, 740 years before the actual event occurred.

In fact, that is our First Reading today from Isaiah chapter 60. Remember, we heard phrases like:

-Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem, your light (truth) has come

-Darkness covers the earth, but upon you the Lord shines and over you appears His light (truth)

-Your Sons come from afar

Speaking of coming from afar.  Do you remember the story of the little boy in a play about the Epiphany who showed up at the first dress rehearsal dressed like a firefighter instead of a Magi?

Sister asked him why he was dressed like a firefighter.  He answered “that one of his lines was to say that he had come from afar.” You know, afar, a fire. A little South Georgia-eese.

Anyway…The passages in Isaiah 60 are very descriptive of the Epiphany event.

And, once again we see the Lord, calling our attention to His desire from the earliest times to be known by all Peoples not just the Chosen People.

Before I wrap up I would like to share my most recent epiphany.

My kids gave me Samsung’s Oculus Virtual Reality goggles for Christmas. They are amazing! You’ve seen them advertised on TV. They put you right in the middle of the action and it is so realistic that you literally ‘feel’ the action.

For instance, one of the sample videos supplied with the device is someone under water feeding sharks and recording it with a Go-Pro mounted on their head. The sharks come right up to you and take the small fish from your hands as you squirm and bob and weave.

Another video is a roller coaster ride. Oh my! As you careen down the rails swerving and leaning toward the outside of the car, your stomach churns just as surely as if you were on a real roller coaster.

In fact, nausea rises to the forefront and you want to reach up and take off the goggles. But, for all the thrills that are possible, the one thing that caught my attention was the fact that you are at the epicenter of the action and have a 360-degree view of your world, left to right, top to bottom and even behind you.

It is a narcissistic delight, everything is centered on you. You are involved, not just watching a screen. It is easy to forget that it is “virtual” reality not real reality. You know, sometimes we get caught up trying to make life all about us.

The virtual reality trips I took are a good reminder that you better be careful what you strive for, you may get it and sooner or later, it will make you sick – just like in real life, too much self-centeredness can do us harm.

So, on this great feast we pray, “Help us Oh Lord, to embrace the epiphany of You, and respond to Your great love for all of us! Help us to look beyond ourselves and see Your work in all creation”

Ahh Yes, Forgiveness

“When you are praying and you remember that you are angry with another person about something, forgive that person. Forgive them so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins.” Mark 11:25 (ERV)
 

It’s making me squirm in my wooden chair, this idea of total forgiveness.

People talk loudly around me as I sip coffee at a restaurant and read Jesus’ words that rock me to the core. I wonder, Can these people hear the secret welling up in my throat? I’m a Christian and I don’t know how to forgive.

I instinctively put my hand over the page to hide the words. I feel exposed.

I’ve walked with God for many years, but I’m struggling to get over past hurts. My relationships are suffering, and the same personal issues keep rising up in my life. I’ve realized I haven’t really shown mercy to those who have injured me, not completely. Forgiveness does not come naturally.

I thought it would be easier to love others like my Father in Heaven. But today, forgiveness feels strange, uncomfortable and radical, like the sun blazing hot on me through the cold cafe window.

Forgiveness is heat and exposure, my heart laid bare in front of God. It feels like surgery. I’m having to admit I’ve become angry and bitter. There have been times lately when forgiveness feels nearly impossible because my heart is bound up tightly like a kid’s knotted shoelaces.

I have pitted myself against others and fought hard for my own rights. I’ve justified myself under the cloak of righteousness and called it love. Slowly, I’m realizing I cannot change people. I am the only problem I can fix.

I think of those who have forgiven me. My husband who pardoned me after I walked out years ago. My kids who hugged me after I yelled. A whole roomful of people who loved me anyway when I threw something in anger.

The capacity to forgive means we are wholly reliant on these open hearts of ours walking around, alive and resurrected in Christ. Beating, open, raw. Forgiving, letting be, letting go.

To forgive is to be transformed completely and never bring up a fault again — no matter what it is. We are to pray and want the best for the one who has injured us. This is unsettling because it feels impossible. Even after I forgive, anger tries to sneak in again and again.

Forgiveness feels like letting people off the hook. Releasing our vise grip on “I told you so” and “You hurt me.” Without forgiveness, our hearts become hard as stone, petrified wood, rotting slower than time.

Today’s Scripture verse reminds us feelings cannot be trusted, but God’s mercy can. It’s not easy, this everyday surrendering of ourselves. We must keep our hearts open to be reworked day after day.

When past hurts rise up and our spiritual lives grow cold, it’s time to bare our hearts to our Heavenly Father, who changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He is faithful to fill us with grace as many times as we need. On repeat. Forever.

We don’t have to be cold, dead wood. We can be heat and life to this world like God. He is constantly reminding us of places we need to let mercy in. He lays our hearts bare at the table, and we experience the great undoing, recalibrating work of grace. We forgive so we will be forgiven. Totally.

Dear Jesus, old hurts and feelings still threaten to hijack my heart, but I want to forgive like You forgive me. When I feel anger creeping in, let that be the signal to forgive again and experience mercy’s healing power. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Thank you, Christina Hubbard, for this insightful article…

Stone By Stone, a Homily

Homily, Nov 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 33rd Sunday of Ord Time (Stone Upon Stone)

In our Gospel, today, we are given a picture of the Jewish temple before and after its destruction. In the process, we learn that even those things that symbolize stability can fall. Change is inevitable.

We may not like it – we may resist it, but the reality is, things change. “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill. While those are very wise words, they don’t offer much in the way of consolation when we are waist deep in the alligators of change.

Sometimes changes are welcome. But, there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. There are days when our life is forever changed, the world is different, and nothing is like it used to be.

You and I know those days. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, they are stories of the health diagnosis that pointed to the end, they are stories about the divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost, the day Hurricane Matthew blew over the Island’s trees and not just the dead wood, but huge healthy trees as well.

In the language of our Gospel today, the things we look to for stability can be referred to as our temples. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions.

In that sense, Temples are the things that we think give structure and order to our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security. At least we think they do, until they don’t, anymore.

For many people the Catholic Church is not the church we remember. It is not like it used to be when we were growing up.

Things have changed. As a country, the temple of our economic system has changed. We can no longer count on investments that will grow predictably every year.

Globally, we read of wars, plagues, famines. Nations have risen against nation. Security, peace, and diplomacy have given way to fear, violence, and terrorism. Temples are falling everywhere.

In today’s gospel, some were speaking about the Jewish temple, its beautiful stones, and gifts dedicated to God hanging on its inside walls. It was a massive structure, able to seat thousands. It is what structured their community. It gave identity and meaning. It was the center of Jewish life.

Yet, Jesus looks at it and says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Construction had taken over 50 years, but it was destroyed in 70 AD after a Jewish rebellion against the Romans.

So, what do we do on the day our temple falls?

Change has a way of pushing us into the future. If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our minds. That is not Jesus’ response. He is calling us to be faithful in the present.

Sometimes, after our temple falls, we look for a scapegoat, someone to blame or even demonize. We look for someone or a group who does not think, act, or believe like we do. That is not Jesus’ response.

Or, maybe we will simply give up and walk away in despair. We can see nothing left. Everything is lost and the situation is hopeless. That is not Jesus’ response.

Some will become angry, resentful, and fight back. Others will say this is God’s will or maybe even worse, this is God’s punishment. And, we are referring to a group that behaves in a way that offends us and we think, God as well.

Jesus’ response is just the opposite. Be still, He says; be quiet, He says; do not be led astray. Do not allow your life to be controlled or defined by fear. Do not listen to the many voices that would cause you to run and follow after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now.

Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, especially in the midst of our temple ruins, we will likely not find God, anywhere, because He tells us in Psalm 34 that He is closest to us when we are crushed in spirit.

The place of fallen temples is the place in which God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” We have a God who creates.

Those promises are fulfilled through our perseverance. By perseverance we gain our lives – the last words of today’s Gospel.

Jesus is calling us to the virtue of stability. We are to remain fully present and faithful, no matter how uncomfortable life may be. In so doing we discover that God has always been with us – in the changes and chaos of life; in the pain, loss, and disappointment; in the destruction of our temples.

Endurance, perseverance, stability are the ways in which we offer God the fallen stones of our temples. Stone by stone He rebuilds our life.

Stone by stone God restores the original beauty of our life and world. Stone by stone a new temple arises from the rubble.

And, we become the temple of God. That is the story that needs to be told. That is our opportunity to testify to the Good News of God’s love for all of us, warts and all.

We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It is not. Oh, it will be, if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, or try to put it back together like it used to be.

But it does not have to be the end of the story. Indeed, the greater story is how we discovered God next to us in the temple ruins and how, stone by stone, He rebuilt what we could not.

It is the ongoing story of God recreating life out of loss and ruin, a story of God rejoicing and delighting in his people.

This story is the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘according to you’. It is not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is according to you. It is real, sacred, and true. Trust that story, tell it over and over, proclaim it to all who will listen, and live that story to the fullest.

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