Monday, January 15, 2018

To whom do we listen

In today’s first reading we see the end of the reign of Saul approaching. Samuel points to a lack of two things. In one translation they are referred to as obedience and submission. In Hebrew they are both words that refer to the activity of listening. The second kashab refers to actively trying to hear, turning yours ears toward the sound, the way we lean in to a conversation in a noisy place. The first word shamah refers to the act of listening with intelligence. 

We live constantly surrounded by the sound of more voices than we can count, not just “social media” that we now want to blame for all the world’s ills, but the voices of our peers, friends, family, those we wish to please, as well as the interior voices of our feelings, and the wee small voice of our conscience.  

When we sin, it is not just that we have chosen not to listen to our conscience, instead we have actively chosen to listen attentively to another voice. We have turned our ears away from God and toward another voice, a voice that always has a beautiful rationalization for the sin we choose to commit. 

Today in the United States we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was, like all of us, a flawed human being. His greatness was that, in the critical moments of life, his hearing had been honed from years of practice to find, amidst the noise, the quiet voice of God, and to choose to listen intelligently to that voice even when it endangered his life. 

Can we name the voices that speak to us? Can we identify the voice of of our passions like ambition, lust, or selfishness? Do we have the courage to turn away from the voice of our friends when they urge us in the wrong direction? Can we recognize the voice of our conscience amid all the noise?

As human beings we have a God-given freedom to choose and whether we are aware of it or not we are constantly choosing one voice over another. The challenge of Christian living is to develop the habit of identifying the voice of God and choosing to lean toward and listen intelligently to that one voice. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Needing others

Of the four gospel writers St. John may be the one who is least concerned with writing history as we in the modern world think of it. He is always writing theology, telling us about God, humanity, and the relationships among them. 

In both the first reading and the gospel we have stories of calls, the call of Samuel in the first reading and the call of the Apostles in the second. In neither  story are those called able to recognize and respond to the call of God on their own. In the stories of Samuel, he needs the help of Eli. In John’s version of the call of the Apostles, John the Baptist points two of his apostles to Jesus, and one of the two, Andrew, goes and gets his brother Simon (Peter).  

These stories remind us that God created human beings to be social, and the Church to be communal. Yes, there is always a very personal dimension to faith, but true Christian faith is never individual. This is the truth behind the often misrepresented phrase “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”  Human beings are created to be in relationship with God and with one another. We need one another.

These readings also challenge each of us to examine our words and actions and ask, “Do my words and actions draw others to Christ?” We are all called to be Eli, to be John and Andrew.   Not just in exceptional moments but in the everyday, people should find in us an attractive example.  And we should be constantly looking for opportunities to help those around us recognize the action of God in their lives. 

Samuel needed Eli, Andrew needed John, Simon needed Andrew. It’s really very simple. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Providential Encouneters

A significant part of every life is spent not doing things that interest us or even things we want to do, but rather doing things that simply need to be done. As we continue reading from the First Book of Samuel we encounter Saul whose father is Kish whose asses have wandered off. Saul is told to take some servants and go look for the animals. 

Did they wander off in different directions? Did they wander off in a group? Which way did they go? Who knows. But Saul, as any obedient son would, goes off and searches unsuccessfully for the animals. But in the midst of the boring and fruitless search he has heard there is a seer in the area and decide to consult him. Then by what would appear to be conincidence he runs into Samuel. 

How many times during the course of our day do we simply cross paths with other people, not family, friends or coworkers that we are intending to talk to but the chance encounter? How do we engage with that person?

Our American tendency is to offer the polite “Hi, how ya doing?” and keep moving as quickly as possible. Particularly when we are working we can get frustrated by anything or anyone we classify as an interruption. 

Some would tells us to see Jesus in them. But I wonder if that isn’t too abstract and misses the point. Rather than looking for Jesus in them wouldn’t it be easier just to remember the second of the two great commandments and love the person in front of us whoever they are. Suddenly, that’s not an interruption, it’s a person, a person who deserves our attention. 

Yes, we may need to limit the length of calls and other interactions, but even when the time is short we should be able to truly be attentive to the other person, to listen, to care, to not be dismissive. 

As far as Saul knew,  he was out there looking for his father’s asses. From God’s perspective he was out there for a very different reason, to meet Samuel the man who would change his life. We can never know which chance encounter is actually, providentially part of God’s larger plan. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reconciliation of families

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and families will be gathering some to go to Church, for dinners, and some will open presents. But there will also be those missing family members, not just those separated by war or work, but those separated by problems, those who are in some way astanged, isolated. 

On this last full day of Advent, The Prophet Elijah speaks of the sending of a Messenger. And the purpose of his message is:
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

The original messenger was of course St. John the Baptist,  who came preaching a message to reconcile us all to God, but also, as Elijah points out, to reconcile us to one another, to reconcile families. 

Now we are called to be those messengers. No, I am not suggesting that one phone call can magically heal years of separation. But I am suggesting that as Christians we have a duty to at least take a first step. Whether it’s text, call or email, there is still time to in some way reach out to those who find themselves on the periphery of the gatherings of families and friends. It may be a bit awkward, but that’s ok too. 

At our baptism we are all baptized into Christ (priest, prophet, and king) today our hearts are turned to Elijah and his message of reconciliation. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Holy Wisdom

While today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday on which the color rose is used to symbolize rejoicing, this year it is also the first day of the O Antiphons which are sung on the last seven days of Advent. These ancient antiphons focus our attention on images for the messiah taken from the Prophet Isaiah. The last, the one to be sung on December 24th is the most famous, Emmanuel. 

Today we begin with wisdom:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, Who came out of the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come and teach us the way of prudence.

Khakam in Hebrew, Sapientia in Latin or Sophia in Greek, the concept of wisdom is not particular to Christianity. But today’s antiphon reminds us that there is a particularly Christian understanding of wisdom. For us Christians, wisdom is not something which comes to you simply by virtue of getting old. While there is the saying “with age comes wisdom”,  there is also the saying “there’s no for like an old fool.”

The wisdom which Isaiah prophesied is not a thing it is a person. The wisdom of God which has come forth is the Messiah, the word made flesh. Knowledge we can acquire from reading and listenin; true wisdom, Holy Wisdom, comes only as a free gift of God, it comes from grace. It comes from prayer and the reception of the sacraments, instruments of grace. 

How do we know we are growing in wisdom? The antiphon links it to another virtue, the “way of prudence.”  As we look at our day to day choices, do we see in our choosing signs of prudence? Do we thoughtfully act or do we react?

Prudence is understood to be the mother of all other virtues. It is the ability to choose the right course of action, often in spite of our feelings at that moment. It is more than a general desire to do good. For the Christian, prudence is the ability to apply our Christian principles to the concrete situation in front of us. When it becomes habit we call that virtue. 

It is not easy for us to stay on, what the antiphon calls the via prudentiae, the path of prudence. We know the priciples when we are sitting in church. But then when we are at home or at work, our feelings or expediency, or profit or promotion get in the way. 

Today, and perhaps for these last seven days of Advent, it would be a good time to pray for the gift of wisdom, that we may daily know and choose the right path. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

What about the others

Today’s gospel is the familiar story of the friends whonlower the paralyzed man through the roof. At first glance it is a beautiful story about the power of intercession. Jesus sees the faith of the friends and cures the paralyzed man. 

But what about the other characters in the story? The reason they have to open the roof is that even the friends with all their faith can’t get past the crowd   .  One individual would be no problem but when the individuals come together and form a crowd, it is too much to handle. 

Advent, like Lent,  is a time to examine our lives. In particular, we are called to ask how prepared we are for the second coming of Christ.

 Like the friends, if you are reading this, you are probably already a person  of faith. But all of could draw closer to Christ. So we must ask: Is there a “crowd” in my life? The crowd can be people but can also be things, things that so occupy our attention that there is little time for Jesus. 

As we prepare the way of the Lord in Advent, perhaps we can take a few minutes to clearly identify the crowd in our lives, so that we do not have to climb on the roof, we can thin out the crowd that stands between us and Jesus so we can enter his house with a pure heart, and be ready to receive him.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Starting Over

Today we begin our reading of the Gospel of Mark, the shortest and, some would argue, the oldest of the gospels. 
He opens quote the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you...”
Messenger in Greek is “angelos”, from which we get the word angel.  In fact, the word is used in two ways. 
Yes, we do believe in the spiritual beings we call angels and they are in fact messengers. But we also believe that humans can serve as angels/messengers in the second sense of the word. 
As Christians, we are all called to be angels in that sense. We are called to be the messengers who go before the Lord’s second coming.  
Being angels does not simply mean we buy Christmas presents for poor children once a year. Being angels in this sense is meant to be a way of life, 24/7/365. That is the great struggle.
Last week we began not only Advent, but we began a new liturgical year. Perhaps as we start this new liturgical year, we can begin where St. Mark begins. We can focus on becoming the angels/messengers of the gospel that we are meant to be.