Reflection - August 11, 2019

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

We are capable of more than we think. When I want to be inspired, sometimes I’ll look up “People are Awesome” on YouTube. These videos are montages of amazing examples of human dexterity, agility, coordination, skill, and pure physical prowess. While there is a small element of chance, most of these feats represent hours, or even years, of passion, dedication, practice, training, and not a few failures or broken bones. There is an inherent accountability: failure results in direct and immediate consequences. That’s part of the process. We learn from our mistakes, resolve to do better, work diligently, and strive for success. We need to set expectations in order to achieve excellence. None of the incredible accomplishments in these videos are accidental. They didn’t just happen. There’s much more to it than that. 

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Reflection - August 4, 2019

“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’”

I have a heart for the ideal, but usually act as a pragmatist. I embody a tension between romanticism and realism. Sometimes both suffer, but often they cross pollinate and create something beautiful. As a young seminarian I had a deeply felt pull to follow St. Francis, give away all my possessions, leave seminary, and live poor with the poor. My spiritual director wisely affirmed the desire, but took several months with me to unpack and explore that desire. Love, justice, and simplicity were there at the heart, but self-aggrandizement, radical independence, and fear of commitment to my vocation and the church were also there. I discovered that there are many ways to live a life that doesn’t make sense unless God and his love are real. My promises of obedience, simplicity of life, and celibacy were just as radical and were at the same time, perhaps, more concrete and more pragmatic. The beauty of holiness is that it embodies both the ideal (“Be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect”) and the pragmatic and concrete (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). Neither, without the other, is complete. Both are necessary. 

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Reflection - July 7, 2019

“Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!”
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 
For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation.” 
“Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”

It doesn’t happen very often, but even selecting the above excerpts from the three readings today and putting them together in print feels a little uncomfortable. Regrettably, I’m a bit too comfortable with similar references in advertisements, music, television shows, movies, and in popular culture, in general. We are inundated with image and story defining our bodies, especially the more sexual or sexualized parts, and how we are free to use them. Sensual and seductive, our bodies are reflected back to us by much of our culture as a means to an end. It has been going on for so long, that we are pretty comfortable with it. It is easy to accept this constant messaging without thinking much is wrong with it. We have begun to presume that our bodies are primarily instruments for unrestricted pleasure. It’s pretty powerful. 

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Reflection - June 16, 2019

“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

In nearly every field of human endeavor that’s worth doing we expect there to be exertions, trials, hardships, and afflictions: business, sports, politics, academics, military, art, craft, healthcare, etc.  We even expect, for the most part, that quality human relationships are going to take effort and have challenging times. Human relationships are not easy to do well for the long run. We may even recognize that it is work and takes dedication to be committed to our own mental health. We prize success, achievements, and milestones because they usually reflect hard work and, especially, resilience. 

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Reflection - July 21, 2019

“Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
‘Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? 
Tell her to help me.’
The Lord said to her in reply,
‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. 
There is need of only one thing. 
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.’”

In seminary, we had an annual award for the seminarian that showed the greatest effort and initiative taking care of menial tasks.  Things like moving chairs from the basement storage room to the dining room (in a seminary, it’s called a refectory) for special events, cleaning up the television lounge, and organizing the outdoor furniture and storage were included. It was called the Martha, Martha Award. Those things needed to get done and they were, perhaps, contrary to most seminarians’ inclinations. We were there to pray, study, grow, serve pastoral needs, participate in sacraments, etc.  You know, the better part. An old priestly saying gets at the heart of it, “These hands were made for chalices, not calluses.” Hence the need to reinforce carrying out the mundane with an award. There was no, and no need for, a Mary Award. 

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Reflection - June 30, 2019

“Brothers and sisters:
for freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.”

Freedom from restraint. After 50 years of marriage, one of my grandma’s favorite lines, spoken often to my grandpa with great love and occasionally with fierce exasperation, was, “Don’t tell me what to do.” This is a common understanding of freedom in our culture. Freedom seems to be the lack of exterior requirements or constraints for how we act or behave. In most cases, with the slim exception of harm to another, we long for the ability to self-define our action or identity. We can bristle when an authority makes decisions to compel or restrain our own action. It hits all of us across the spectrum of human activity: relationships, economics, politics, and personal morality. Sometimes, we accept restrictions willingly because of our own beliefs and desires or because of our understanding of the common good, but we may also conform through force or threat of punishment. With the right resources, we have tools in our society to resist through protest, the courts, or the ballot box. Often, we vie for power to protect our ability to decide our own action or regulate the actions of others. All of this takes as its foundation the understanding of freedom as minimizing restrictions on our actions. Don’t tell me what to do. 

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Reflection - May 26, 2019

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Jesus was a Jew. All of his Apostles and disciples were Jews. They followed the law of Moses and the traditions and customs of the Jews. Yet, the Gospel was being preached to the gentiles, primarily by Paul and Barnabas. Signs followed, the Holy Spirit was given, and many believed. This created conflict. Should the Gentile followers of Jesus be required to follow all the prescriptions of the law, including circumcision? How was this to be decided? From where would the answer come?

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Reflection - July 14, 2019

“But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
‘And who is my neighbor?’
‘...Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers' victim?’
He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”

The scholar of the law, likely a Scribe, puts it all down on the table, “Love God and love neighbor.” He risks everything, an all demanding response, but seeing the potential for loss, the possible cost of love, he hedges his bet, “And who is my neighbor?” For Jesus, it is not only the wrong question, but reveals the deeper hesitation to go all in. It reveals the self concern and self reference within all of our hearts. We seek to limit our obligations based on the definition of the other: just give me a rule to follow. As we hear in the first reading, the law isn’t out there somewhere, defined by exterior expectations and behaviors, but within our very hearts. Transformation, not conformation, is the path to inherit eternal life. 

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Reflection - July 23, 2019

“Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing over them, broke them,
and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

They all ate and were satisfied.
And when the leftover fragments were picked up,
they filled twelve wicker baskets.”

Today’s Gospel is about the Eucharist. The fourfold action of Jesus is repeated again at the last supper and again on the road to Emmaus. It happens at every mass we celebrate and is the pattern for our lives. 

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