Old and New Worlds. November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, a holiday of family gatherings, eating around tables filled with sumptuous food, giving thanks. Like all holidays, we expect the day to resemble a Norman Rockwell scene of happiness and family unity, and our expectations usually fail to deliver. My experiences of many holidays over the years have been wonderful and joyful, but never Norman Rockwell !!!

Traditions, like life, need to change, allowing new people and new experiences to to reshape the celebration. Nothing, if it is to be life giving, can remain static and frozen in time.

My Thanksgiving has changed significantly since my mom and many others have passed away. So many of the people I spent Thanksgiving with for so many years are now gone but continue to celebrate in spirit. When I got home from the dinner , which took place in a nursing home, I could have been sad or depressed, but I chose NOT to react in a negative way. I simply ACCEPTED that things are different now and new ways of living the holidays are emerging. How much life is easier and happier when we accept change and allow new life to find expression.

As old worlds die…new worlds want to be born. As we prepare to begin Advent, we are reminded that the world as we know it, is slowly passing away and a new world is already taking shape. This “new world” is the one jesus preached about in his parables , but more importantly, lived on his day to day life. This new world is the Kingdom, the foundation of which is the Love of Christ, whose arms embraced all of humanity on the Cross, in every time and place…past, present and future. The old world of brokenness and alienation died on the Cross and a New World was born.

I got a glimpse of this New World in a very unlikely and untraditional place: a nursing home!! Yes, as so many of the people are preparing to leave the earthly tables of turkey delights, those of us who are the visitors must accompany them and then let go when the time comes. And then we must carry on, creating new expressions of beautiful holidays. The feast I celebrated with my very small family was indeed a feast that was peaceful and happy. Different….yes, but perhaps more meaningful. I was experiencing the birth of this New World imbued with Advent hope.
The patient waiting that characterizes Advent always leads to a Birth…

Burn camino. Padre.

The Widow’s Mite. November 24, 2014

When we think of a “mite” we usually think of those tiny , little bugs or ticks that are a nuisance and aggravate allergies. In the gospel , a “mite” is the smallest exchange of money , perhaps a half of a cent. Like the insect we usually think of, a mite is tiny and imperceptible to the senses.

Jesus is in the Temple and he notices a woman identified as a widow dropping two copper coins – mite- into the offering. The others had much larger coins ,worth much more , that most certainly caused a large clanking sound when thrown into the receptacle for the donation. Everyone would have heard and noticed the donor and donation. The widow’s two tiny coins would never be heard, at least in any obvious manner, amidst the noise of the other coins worth so much more. She and her few cents would never cause anyone to take notice…except one Person.

Jesus points out this unnamed widow as one who gave from her want and need:, she gave it all. Jesus teaches us that we need to emulate this poor woman who was very vulnerable and absolutely powerless in her culture. Material comforts and security were clearly not something she worried about, for she put the needs of others ahead of her own.

Our God is one who wants it all or at least he wants all of us. This God wants us to trust in his love and care for us, a trust that runs so deep that we can live a life of selfless giving. Being a follower of Jesus means just that: living so that others can have life. In living this way, life is given back to us a hundred fold.

The question that haunts me: am I doing EVERYTHING I possibly can to materially help those in need? The answer is “no” and that gospel widow gently nudges my conscience.

Creating A New Family. November 22, 2014

As Thanksgiving approaches , I am reminded how my family is shrinking as time moves on. I have very little left of the traditional family structure, given the reality that so many have “passed on” into a new life AND a new family. In the Kingdom, Jesus has created or IS creating a new family not bound by biology. Yes, in this life , marriage and family are the essential building blocks of the human family. We must have strong marriages and families as a foundation to entering a much larger family, one that will come into its own in the next life : the life of Resurrection.

Jesus is asked a simple question by the Sadduccees, those who did not believe in the Resurrection : if a woman marries a man with six other brothers and he dies, one of the brothers will take her into marriage, then he will die and another brother will marry her and he will die. This succession of marriages to the one woman continues until ALL seven have married her then she , herself, dies. In the Resurrection, in the next life, whose wife will she be?

In the Resurrection of the dead, in the next life , that problem is moot…has no basis whatsoever because in the life to come, relationships will NOT be defined as they are in this life. In the Resurrection, human beings will relate in a completely new and different way, since we will form ONE Family living together with God as our “spouse.” All the questions of who can marry and what happens after divorce will be null and void. Alleluia!!!!

While walking on the camino, I got a brief taste of this new “family.” People of all walks of life: married and single; religious or not; young , middle and seasoned in age; multiple languages and cultures; varieties of lifestyles. And something happened to all these different ways of living and different expressions of loving: the differences didn’t matter!!! We were on this pilgrimage TOGETHER and the love we had for each other transcended our differences. It felt like a family, if only for five weeks.

In this life, within our committed relationships and families, we have to begin to make the reality that WILL occur at the end of time and in the Resurrection a reality that finds expression right NOW in THIS life.
A friend of mine belongs to a parish in which Thanksgiving dinner occurs in the parish center with countless “families”. All are involved and invited. This is not a dinner focused on the homeless but on all who want to come together to become a much larger family. I know that something may be lost in giving up an intimate dinner with the usual family and friends and in the comfort of a home. But think what will be gained… think about those who are not homeless but have nowhere to go…think about how the homeless will feel when traditional families choose to be with them.

It is a change in the traditional way of celebrating Thanksgiving. What a welcome change!!! That parish is creating a living parable of Jesus and making “family” a much more beautiful word.
I’ve got work to do….

Buen camino. Padre

Words As Sweet As Honey. November 21, 2014

I had lunch with a wonderful friend I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. Catching up with old friends is a delight. As she talked about all that’s been happening in her life and as I listened to her respond to my stories, “I was hanging in her words. ” The People in the gospel were “hanging” on the words of Jesus. Like my friend, his words were comforting, challenging and life giving.

In the book of Revelation, john “eats” the scroll that contains words of prophecy and these words tasted as sweet as “honey.” Yes, the words we use may not always be comforting and soothing ; sometimes the message might be difficult to swallow at first. Sometimes the words might be sweet when we first hear them but after giving them some thought , a bitterness may develop in our stomachs.
This is exactly what happened to john after eating the scroll : at first, the words tasted sweet but eventually turned sour in his stomach. He realized the words were a call to reform and change, never easy , and often give indigestion!!!
We need to tell people what they need to hear not necessarily what they want to hear. The indigestion always goes away and all that we remember is the sweetness of eating Words of life.

Many wonderful and transforming things can happen over a bowl of oatmeal meal and some coffee. Buen camino. Padre.

When God Visits Us. November 20, 2014

As a child, I loved it when we got a visit from friends and family members, usually on the weekend. It broke the routine and brought joy and warmth into my life. Visits connect us with each other and deepen relationships.
In our own times, we connect through technology, which is good, but can’t replace the physical , face to face contact. Visits have depth when our whole bodies are involved, when we can see the reaction in faces as dialogue is occurring. A text just can’t do it!

In the gospel today, jesus is weeping, yes, he is crying , because he knows the people don’t get it. They have been visited by God in a unique and powerful manner: through the humanity of jesus. But they are blind to this divine and human “visitation .” Jesus weeps not only because his people, particularly some of the leaders , can’t penetrate his true identity, but because WE, also, are missing out. This text and many others in the gospels are used to promote a vile , anti Semitic attitude because the focus becomes the people in the past who rejected jesus: the Chosen People…the Jews.

Jesus is weeping NOW , because we are no different. God is visiting us everyday through all the many human encounters possible that are lost because we live in an enclosed world of technology. Put down your E Book and go to a real live bookstore and connect with people. Be a part of community. Let God “visit ” you through the many strangers who cross our paths. I just got back from a “visit” to Barnes and Noble and I felt a joy seeing people at tables talking, some browsing, others in the children’s section reading to their children. The young woman who waited on me was so kind and friendly.
What a difference this “visit ” made on my day. It led me to this reflection.

God is visiting us through our President’s address to the Nation tonight which will further the cause of coming to a just solution to the millions of undocumented immigrants. They are already a part of the fabric of our culture and way of life. This immigration debate needs to recognize that children are involved, as well as, hard working men and women. God visits us most especially through those who are hidden and vulnerable.

Laws can and do change. The unjust laws that promoted racial and gender discrimination had to be “broken” and changed. Where would we be today if these laws weren’t changed ? They were changed because they were challenged. Part of the law regarding those who want a path to citizenship is about to change. God is visiting us.

Jesus weeps today when we fail to be the instrument of God’s visitation. Yes, God is visiting His people through YOU… through Your humanity…through your compassion … Through your kindness and generosity to strangers. When YOU become the means for God to visit His people…God doesn’t weep but rejoice.

Buen camino. Padre

A Life of Sharing. November 18, 2014

I live on a street of small gift shops and boutiques, and their storefront displays entice us to enter buy something for ourselves or someone we care about. Every gift we buy is a symbol of our love for another person. At Christmas, we buy countless gifts and wrap them up in bright and shiny paper to concretely show our love.

Each one of us is like a beautiful gift, all wrapped up and waiting to be delivered and cause joy to someone else. We are meant to be slowly unwrapped , allowing the gift of who God created us to become, to be made “present.” This “unwrapping ” occurs when we GIVE of ourselves … When we share the talents and resources God had entrusted us to be given away, freely, and at times , lavishly.

The more we live a life of sharing and gratitude for what had been given, the more we are “exposed” for who we really and truly are : a gift from God to make the world a place where He can visit and dwell. In the humanity of Jesus, God “pitched his tent,” found a place to live, to live a life of sharing to the point of giving his life as the Ultimate Gift, that became completely unwrapped and unveiled on the Cross.
The Incarnation of Christ is God’s gift, a real, flesh and blood, concrete Human Being: God became one of us!!!! Divinity was “wrapped up” in humanity. Now, God needs YOU and your humanity as a place to dwell.

As the parable teaches in the gospel, our lives have been given to us by God so that we give them back, share them , with the world. A life of sharing is one in which the hidden God is made visible when we feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned , volunteer on a regular basis, being part of a solution and not adding to a problem.
Like the gold coin in the parable, your life is meant to be like an investment that gives interest on return.
The interest rate on a life of sharing comes in the form of eternal JOY. Not a bad return…

Buen camino. Padre.

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Being Lukewarm. November 18, 2014

There is no doubt about it…it is VERY cold outside in Chicago. The temperatures are frigid and the wind pierces to the bone. The temperature people seem to love can best be described as “lukewarm,” neither hot nor cold. It is more comfortable when the temperature is not challenging to our sensibilities, one way or another. But one thing is certainly clear: God despises people whose characters can best be described as “lukewarm,” in that they stand for nothing that might cause controversy or division. Play it safe; don’t rock the boat; don’t cause any trouble.

The reading from the Book of Revelation in today’s Liturgy has God condemning in no uncertain words those who are lukewarm saying, “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” This is quite a blunt statement , coming from God through St. John. The reading goes on to say that those who are rich think they are comfortable and need no help. They are self-sufficient. When we lose sight of the fact that we are ALWAYS dependent on God and are NEVER self-sufficient, we risk becoming lukewarm and apathetic.

The end of the church year is challenging us OUT of the complacency of living in the comfort zone and INTO the risky business of living in the gospel zone. Gospel living is taking a stand on what matters and what is right; it means re-shaping one’s life along the contours of selfless love; and it demands an ongoing life of daily prayer that deepens the conversion of the heart.
There is nothing lukewarm about this way of living. It might be more comfortable living in a climate that is mild and dull but it is more interesting and challenging to live in a climate like Chicago’s: unpredictable and variable…much like life. Gospel living can never be lukewarm.
Buen camino. Padre