Just four photos from Thursday’s visit to J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Sanctuary on Sanibel Island, Florida.
March 29, 2014
In those Catholic parishes that have an active RCIA program, these readings to which we just listened – including the long Gospel story from John about the Man Born Blind – are read not just every third year in the Church’s 3-year Sunday cycle, but they are read every year on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. It’s during the Lenten Season when the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – reclaiming the Church’s ancient practice of welcoming new members through a very thoughtful and prayerful process of initiation – welcomes adults who have been preparing for many months, sometimes years, to become Christian through the Easter Waters of Baptism.
On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, those adults – now called The Elect – will come forward for what’s called the Second Scrutiny, a ritual in which they, accompanied by their Godparents, are called to a deeper conversion of heart and mind to continue with their resolution, their decision, “to love God above all.” It’s a ritual in which the Community prays that they will be given “a sense of repentance, a sense of sin, and strength of will to live in true freedom as children of God.” Then, during the ritual itself when the Godparents place their right hands on the shoulders of the person with whom they have been walking this journey of faith, the celebrant prays these words: “God of mercy, you led the man born blind to the kingdom of light through the gift of faith in your Son. Free these elect from the false values that surround and blind them. Set them firmly in your truth, children of the light for ever.”
“The false values that surround and blind them.”
Most of us, probably, have a sense of what values are, let alone what values might be true or false, or perhaps what values appear true, but, when brought into the light of faith, are seen for what they truly are. I had an experience recently that made me wonder how common such an understanding is. Recently I had the occasion to speak with someone and I asked this person what values he was handing on to his children by certain actions he was engaging in. I almost was caught off guard when the response came, “what do you mean by values?” I tried to find a way to say what I meant, to get him to think of what is important in his life, what he finds to be of worth and lasting significance. He was able to say “family” was important to him – but knowing a bit about his family – I pressed further. “What about ‘family’ is valuable and important?” After all, I thought – even Vito Corleone or his real life counterparts in the contemporary Mafia – a crime organization whose members Pope Francis forcefully addressed this past week – would also have expressed belief in “family,” wouldn’t they? And, in our own country and culture wars, how often do we see bumper stickers promoting “family values” by those whose life choices make one ask whether Jesus would have chosen similarly.
When we listen to today’s readings, it doesn’t take a degree in theology to understand what their real meaning is all about. As we listen to this story of the man who, blind from birth, is given physical sight by Jesus’ actions, we also know that those religious leaders of the day, gifted with physical sight like most of humanity, have become blind to what is truly important, what is truly real, what is truly good, what is truly of value. Through the false values they have subscribed to, they seem chained to a rigid understanding of human rules and laws and regulations, for the Gospel writer tells us they cannot see what is plainly in front of them. Not only do they fail to stand back in awe and in wonder at the miracle of healing that Jesus has brought about, more importantly they fail to see who Jesus is. Blinded as they are by pride, power and position, they fail to see the identity of this miracle worker from Nazareth, the one who not only demonstrates power now over human ailments, but who soon will be shown as the One Who has power of death itself.
How often do we, too – or religious leaders in our own day – succumb to the same temptation? How often do we fail to recognize the Hand of God at work in the world simply because what we see does not fit with our preconceived notions of what is good and right? How often are we blind to the face of God in other people – either in our own backyard or across the globe – simply because they do not look like us or have lives which have traveled a different path? Do we have eyes to see that we are created in the Image of God, or do we prefer to limit our vision to a god created in the image of ourselves?
Today’s first reading from Samuel says it very clearly. In a line that seems uncannily similar to that famous line in the children’s book, “The Little Prince” about what is essential being invisible to the eye, the author of Samuel says this of Jesse’s eldest son, the one whom everyone expected would be anointed king: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as the human person sees does God see, because the human person sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.”
As we move toward the end of our Lenten journey, what still blinds us to seeing, like God, into not only the hearts of others, but into our own hearts? Let us pray that, as our gathering son prays, our eyes might be opened to see the face of God in everyone, our ears might be opened to hear the voice of God in the cries of God’s people, and that our hearts might be opened to love one another as God loves us.
March 1/2, 2014 — Readings
When I first looked at the readings for today, I couldn’t help but focus on that word “worry,” which we hear Matthew place on the lips of Jesus in this passage that comes in the middle of Matthew’s long Sermon on the Mount. Some scripture commentators refer to this as “The Great Sermon” because it includes so much of what is at the core of Jesus’ message and because it presents Jesus’ teachings in such a straightforward way. So it is in this “Great Sermon” that we hear Jesus tell us not to worry about our lives or any aspect of our lives. We are not to worry about food or drink or clothing, because worrying about these things will, as Jesus suggests, “add not a single moment” to our lives. I think this word, “worry,” grabbed my attention for two reasons. First, it reminded me of that little prayer which comes right after the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that includes the line, “… and protect us from all anxiety.” Worry, after all, is anxiety. It’s that experience in which we get all worked up about one thing or many things and we dwell on difficulties or problems that are either real or imagined. The second reason I was drawn to this word is because I spend much of my time as a therapist working with people who suffer not just from “ordinary worry” – if there can be such a thing – but who are so filled with worry and anxiety that it gets in the way of their ability to function fully in daily life. You may be surprised to know that Anxiety is so prevalent in our culture that in any given year, over 18% of American adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. That’s a lot of worry!
Although Matthew places this passage in the middle of The Great Sermon, it wouldn’t be out of place if it came at the Sermon’s beginning. It is in The Great Sermon that we hear Jesus’ teachings about who is truly blessed in the Beatitudes; we hear Jesus call upon his followers to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”; and, it is in this Sermon that we are challenged by Jesus’ command – not suggestion, but command – to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I suggest, however, that before we can understand true blessedness, or begin to be light and salt for others, and especially before we can allow our hearts to be softened so that we do love our enemies and pray for those who despise us – before we can do any of this we must first ask and answer a basic question. For us and for every Christian that question is the one that Jesus suggests in today’s Gospel passage: Will I live for God or will I live for ‘mammon’?
‘Mammon’ is an Aramaic word and while it does mean money or property, it also more broadly means anything in which I put my trust and in which I find my security. For many ‘mammon’ might actually be money or tangible resources, for others it could mean professional success or accomplishments or reputation or another person or – as we are reminded this weekend as Oscar’s Red Carpet is rolled out in Hollywood – it could even mean my looks and outward appearance.
Now professional success, accomplishments, reputation, relationships and even caring for our physical bodies – these are certainly not bad things nor are they values to be disdained. They can, however – if we let them – distract us from what is most important in our lives – our lives as individuals and our lives as a community of believers. Only when God is valued above every other value will the subordinate but necessary values of food, shelter, livelihood, and human relationships fall into their proper place.
We must never forget that those first persons who heard Jesus preach this and other sermons were probably quite poor. As he taught them about genuine values and priorities in one’s life, they may have heard these in the midst of experiencing want. For some, their poverty may have predisposed them to seek God’s reign with pure, unencumbered hearts. For many more, I suspect, their poverty and desperate need for the essentials of life became obstacles from focusing on God, trying simply to survive in a world and culture that had little room for them and their needs. As I thought about this, I tried to place myself in the shoes of an individual or community who knows first-hand the pangs of hunger or the lack of adequate shelter. I wonder what it would be like today for such a person or community who is hearing these words just as we are, words of Jesus telling me not to worry about the things I don’t have yet sorely need, wondering when God will provide for me enough food to eat and clothes to wear, just as God provides for the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field?
While you and I are hopefully filled with gratitude for the food and drink and clothing and shelter and every other blessing that we do have, what are we to do when we know that others in our world are not so fortunate? In remembering that Jesus calls both poor and rich alike to trust in the love of God and not be consumed with fearful fretting and useless worrying, perhaps we should also remember that the God of Isaiah and the God of Paul and the God of Jesus promises to love us and all creation with a love that goes beyond even the greatest of human loves we can imagine. This God knows the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the addicted, the refugee, and those on the margins of society. This God knows the needs of the aging, the dying, and the victims of injustice, violence, and greed. And so the question, “Will I live for God or will I live for ‘mammon’? remains for us to answer each and every day. If I choose to live for God, what then does this mean not simply for what I believe, but what does it mean for what I do? How will I live for God today? If I do live for God, then how does God’s care for all creation inspire me to similar caring and compassion for others?
January 25/26, 2014
Listening to that first reading from the prophet Isaiah, you might wonder whether or not we had forgotten to turn the pages of the lectionary from a few weeks ago, as this reading and its memorable phrases are so very reminiscent of the readings from Christmas. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.” In fact, those are the very words which open the reading from Isaiah for the Christmas Liturgy at Midnight. How appropriate they are for that particular liturgy, celebrated as it is in the darkness of night and drawing a stark contrast between the literal darkness of that time of day, and our belief that in Jesus darkness is dispelled and God’s Light – more so than the dawning of daybreak – enlightens the world in a new and permanent way.
We then hear – as we do during these early Sundays of this Cycle A Liturgical Year – a passage from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. The Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth was founded by Paul during what is known as his 2nd Missionary Journey – probably around the years 50 to 52. This Corinthian community – which probably numbered in the hundreds – was clearly very important to Paul, who lived and stayed with them for over a year. They would gather for prayer not in the synagogue or some church or other public building – for there were as yet no such places – but rather they would gather much like we are doing today, in the home of someone who has opened their doors in hospitality and welcome.
Because Paul was so very fond of this community that he founded, it should be no surprise that he writes such a challenging letter to them. He writes about many things in this relatively brief letter, especially when he hears that there is division and in-fighting among them. Having heard that they have divided themselves into factions and cliques, Paul wastes no time in telling them why he is writing, urging them to have no divisions among them, to be of the same mind and the same judgment. It’s not difficult for us – some two millennia later – to see how the issue Paul addressed head on way back then must somehow be inscribed in the very essence of what it means to be human. After all, has much changed since then? Aren’t we, no matter what the context, so very good at putting people into categories and camps – labeling others and even ourselves so that our attention is on what separates us rather than what unites us? Is human society or even the Christian community any more united or “of the same mind” today than it was two thousand years ago? For those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, are we following someone – or, more likely something – else more closely than we are following the One in Whose footsteps we claim to walk? If we were to look at a “Family Tree of Christianity,” we would see that there are some 1,200 organized Christian groups or churches in the US alone, and over 30,000 such groups worldwide. What do you suppose Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, would think of that?
If the evidence seems to show that divisions among Christians have not diminished but have increased, then what does this say for us who gather here today, allowing ourselves to be challenged by the Scriptures and nourished by the Eucharist? For Paul, what was important was not being part of a certain group, but rather being a Christian meant dying with Christ so as to live in his Light.
But what does it mean to “die with Christ”? What does Paul’s vision of Christianity say to us who, believing that Jesus has dispelled the darkness and brought his saving Light to the world, are called to bear forth the Light of Jesus and the Peace of Christ? How can we – how can I – make that Light and Peace of Christ more present in a world which, at times, seems so filled darkness? We need not look far to see a world still burdened by wars and the lust for power, by senseless violence and death, by poverty and suffering that cry out for relief.
In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus call his first disciples, men who gave up all that they had – however much or little – to follow him. Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew to “Come after me…” is no less our call today. As Jesus’ own ministry will show, the “Kingdom of Heaven” he preaches refers not to some heavenly after-life, but rather to daily life lived here and now. That Kingdom, that Reign of God, is much less about the future than it is about the very real presence of this day, this moment. However, in order for God’s Reign to be revealed in the present, Jesus calls us to repent. Repentance means ensuring that our values are in sync with Jesus’ values, that our words and our actions are truly “what Jesus would say and do.” Like those first disciples, we are called to make people, not things, the focus of our lives. Nothing – no thing – can ever be more important than the relationships we have with one another, and nothing should ever blind us to seeing the face of God in every human person.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the song that begins with the words, “Come! Live in the Light. Shine with the Light and the Love of the Lord!” It goes on to state what it means to live in that Light, who is Christ. As we go about our lives this week, let us keep in mind the challenge of those words to be the Light and Presence of Christ to all we meet. As the hymn says:
Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless, so all hatred and blindness will be no more!
Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!
We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God. (We are Called, by David Haas)
A few images from a recent visit to Bird Rookery Swamp, part of the CREW Land and Water Trust in Naples, Florida.
I lived in Sandusky for seven years as a youngster. Sandusky Central Catholic High School (formerly St. Mary’s Central Catholic High School) is associated with St. Mary’s Parish, while we attended Sts. Peter and Paul. Although my ties to Sandusky are from long ago, I still have family connections there. This action — as every other action in which a faithful LGBT Catholic loses his or her job for being honest and true to themselves as God created them — makes me so very sad. I pray the students, other teachers, and families of SCCHS speak out loudly and clearly in support of Brian Panetta.
Originally posted on Bondings 2.0:
Yet another LGBT church employee has been forced out of a job, this time in Ohio where Brian Panetta resigned from Sandusky Catholic High School (near Cleveland) upon announcing his engagement to his partner, Nathan David.
Panetta received a January 3rd letter from administrators of Sandusky Central, where he has worked since 2009, terminating his employment because of violations of the Catholic Church’s teachings as the reason for his termination. Panetta had previously suggested to administrators that he resign at the academic year’s end to avoid conflicts over his upcoming same-gender marriage. The Sandusky Register offers further details, including comments from the music teacher:
“On Thursday, however, Panetta met with school administrators, a priest and representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, who offered more information and agreed he could resign instead of having a termination on his record, he said.
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So it’s a little late … but this is what greeted us at the top of a large tree as we went for our morning walk!