Reflection - November 11, 2018

“He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. 
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. 
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury. 
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.’”

“All they do is talk about money!” This is a common (not the most common, though) reason people stop going to church or stop being a part of a faith community. What I think they generally mean is, “Whenever they talk about money, all they do is ask for money!” Which I think is translated to, “All they want is my money!” I can imagine the priest, who has very little training in finances, faced with the stress of a major bill, debt, repair, or payroll crisis resorting to repeated guilt ridden appeals for more money. It happens. Nobody wants to be the leader who has to close a parish or or fail to sustain facilities because of a lack of money. It is a real pressure and I’m sure there are real experiences of this happening. 

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Reflection - November 4, 2018

“‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’
Jesus replied, ‘The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, 
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.’”

At 19 years old, my understanding of and belief in God had been growing. I was going to mass daily, singing in the Catholic Cadet Choir, participating in a weekly bible study, and praying intentionally each day. Something was still missing, however. Even though I was growing, my heart was still partitioned. God was an important, perhaps even the most important, part of my life. But that was just it: God was only a part of my life. I put God in a well defined box and still held on to my goals, relationships, hurts, and weaknesses (and sins). I was still in control, or so I thought, and kept God as an ingredient of my “well balanced life.” I was even proud, to a degree, that God was the steamed broccoli on the plate of my life. My relationship with God contributed to my overall health and well being without being my all in all. God may have even become my first priority, but first among many many things. 

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Reflection - October 13, 2018

“‘You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
‘How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!’
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Uh oh. This is particularly troubling in Jesus’s day because wealth was seen as a blessing from a God, an indication of God’s favor. Further, it provided the wealthy one the opportunity to contribute to sacrifices in the temple, support for priests and rabbis, and promote orthodox practice outside of Jerusalem. Clearly, in Jesus’s day, the wealthy had an advantage in making it to God’s kingdom. That’s not, however, how the kingdom works. The kingdom must be received (like a child would) without any entitlement. It must be received as a gift, not purchased like property. It cannot be earned without God’s grace, because it is God’s work, not ours. 

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Reflection - September 23, 2018

Beacon of Hope
Commitment Weekend

“They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
‘What were you arguing about on the way?’
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest. 
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
‘If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’”

It is here! The Beacon of Hope Commitment Weekend has arrived. As a community, I believe we have done our best to discern our needs, listen to the feedback given by our members and adjust our priorities, and present our case for support prayerfully and as clearly as possible. In a very special way, I want to thank our Campaign Directors and the close to 80 members of our Campaign leadership team. Also, our staff has done a terrific job of balancing campaign work and the ongoing ministry needs of our community. I am especially grateful to God for this moment in the life of our community. In the midst of the ongoing crisis in the Church, the faith of those involved in our campaign and of those who have already pledged or given has been a bright spot for me. It is amazing to see. 

From the beginning of the campaign, I have had a profound trust that God will provide for what He wills for us to accomplish. The only way this happens is through your cooperation with God’s plan as you are able: proportionally to your means, generously with joyful giving, and sacrificially out of love. It is clear that the money to reach our goal over 3-5 years is present in our community. It is a profound and humbling reality, however, to experience the faith choice many are making to give their very hard earned money to support our community’s ministry, outreach, and service to others. Many of you have never been asked to consider giving at the level we have asked you to consider. Many of you have never given before at the level you have pledged. This is nothing short of a miracle: God’s grace, through faith, in action. 

Foundational to this campaign is the steadfast belief that Jesus is our true Beacon of Hope. It has nothing to do with status, individually or as a community, but is all about the mission God has given us. We are only here because of what Jesus, sent by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit, has done for us and for the whole world. Each of our lives, our precious time, our varied talents, and our financial resources are essential to our mission. We cannot do what God has called us to do without, first, recognizing God’s great blessings in our lives and, second, the participation of each of you. It takes all of us through our small and big decisions to make manifest God’s love in our community and world. Every one of you has a significant, even essential, contribution to make for God’s purpose. 

The Beacon of Hope campaign is not about who is greatest, but about how through the miracle of your faith and your giving, we as a community can become the servant of all. As a beacon of hope, we do not shine our own light, but the light of Jesus Christ, to those who are wounded, searching, marginalized, or lost. May the light of Christ, the true Beacon of Hope, shine through us. 

Reflection - October 28, 2018

“On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. 
But he kept calling out all the more,
‘Son of David, have pity on me.’
Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.’
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. 
Jesus said to him in reply, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
The blind man replied to him, ‘Master, I want to see.’”

The blind man, Bartimaeus, was desperate. One definition of desperation is, essentially, giving in to despair. I think that actually misses our common understanding. Something is left out. A football team down by two scores with a minute left in the game makes the risky choice to go for it on fourth and long. They have no choice, really. They are desperate. A lone hiker with his arm trapped by a boulder for six days breaks his bones with a rock and uses his knife to amputate his arm to survive. He was desperate. A woman whose angry separated husband sends their kids to his parents for their safety walks into a meeting and is honest for the first time, “I’m an alcoholic.” She was desperate. These folks have not given in to despair. They have faced it, sure, but then something clicks. There is one path of hope and they risk everything to grasp it. The Cambridge Dictionary (online) defines desperation as “the feeling of being in such a bad situation that you will take any risk to change it.” Yeah, that’s it. 

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Reflection - October 7, 2018

“So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,
and while he was asleep,
he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.

The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib
that he had taken from the man.
When he brought her to the man, the man said:
‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.’

That is why a man leaves his father and mother
and clings to his wife,
and the two of them become one flesh.”

This is from the second story of creation from the Book of Genesis, which is a bit more earthy than the first. To our modern sensibilities, the first story is a bit more palatable, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness...God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). While this first story is a bit more abstract and categorical, both stories are in the category of myth. For Catholics, myth has something of a technical definition in relation to scripture. It does not connote fantastical imaginary content, but does point to a deeper meaning, reality, or truth behind the story. It may not be scientific truth or historical truth, but it is divinely inspired symbolic truth. 

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Reflection - September 16, 2018

“He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days. 

He spoke this openly. 
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’”

It was a pretty brazen move on Peter’s part to rebuke Jesus, even in private. We all want to avoid pain and suffering. We go so far as to deny it exists, minimize it’s power, gloss over it’s ramifications, pretend everything is alright. Jesus doesn’t do that. He shows us that the way of love is to embrace suffering. It is the only way to victory, from death to new life, from the cross to resurrection. We must not avoid, but embrace the pain. Jesus says:

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Reflection - October 21, 2018

“When the ten heard this, 
they became indignant at James and John. 
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
‘You know that those who are recognized 
as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 
But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you
will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. 
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve 
and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

The seminary was an environment filled with evaluation. It was not bad practice for what it means to be a public person as a priest, but each day carried with it the observation of fellow seminarians and faculty about how you were (or rather, how I was) living an outward life of holiness in personal interactions, liturgical ministry, academic courses, prayer, service, and leisure. This was most significant in the annual seminarian evaluation for moving forward to the next year of human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral formation. A bad evaluation and lack of faculty approval could lead to dismissal from or “discernment out of” seminary. A tongue in cheek joke in response to this environment was a play on Jesus’s words above, “...did not come to be served, but to serve.” We would say, “It’s not so much to serve, but to be seen serving.” It wasn’t really that funny back then, either. 

This touches on a deep human motivation that many of us feel: ambition. James and John had it, so did the rest of the apostles. Why else would they be indignant? Jesus addresses this ambition, but not by saying it’s bad to be ambitious. In fact, he taps directly into that motivation, “whoever wishes to be great among you...” Most of us have this motivation to be great, recognized, or accomplished. Jesus, himself, had great ambition: ushering in the Kingdom of God, transforming every human heart, fully revealing the unlimited and unconditional love of God, saving the whole world, giving his life as a ransom for many. It’s not that ambition is bad, Jesus just turns the meaning of that desire on its head. We need to be ambitious, just not for ourselves. It is for service to others and the glory of God. 

Many in Jesus’s day, especially those who saw him as a threat, misinterpreted his ambition. They thought he wanted political power to establish an earthly kingdom. They were afraid of his ambition, even as they misunderstood. In some way, his true ambition was both greater than they could imagine and a secret. It almost had to be, so that his crucifixion wouldn’t be the end of his ambition, as his enemies had hoped, but the beginning. You see, it is not about being seen serving, for which the reward is evident, but the possibility of serving without earthly reward. As with Jesus, it is our secret ambition to give our lives away. Michael W. Smith had a song about this secret ambition. The chorus follows:

Nobody knew His secret ambition
Nobody knew His claim to fame
He broke the old rules steeped in tradition
He tore the holy veil away
Questioning those in powerful position
Running to those who called His name
But nobody knew His secret ambition
Was to give His life away

Reflection - September 29

“‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses' aide, said,
‘Moses, my lord, stop them.’
But Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!’”

What is my role as your pastor? In Latin, the word pastor means shepherd. In John’s Gospel, Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus lays down his life for the sheep, whom he knows and who know him. Jesus, as the good shepherd, is the model of a pastor, being in relationship with and laying down his life each day for those entrusted to his care. Traditionally, Jesus is also understood to model three offices or duties or, in Latin, munera: priest, prophet, and king. Functionally, these three munera can encompass many of the specific responsibilities of a pastor to sanctify, teach, and govern. 

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