Reflection for January 18th, 2015 by Father Andy Boyer

Reflection for January 18th, 2015 by Father Andy Boyer

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

 

I came across a short text just recently – Deuteronomy 33:25. “Your shoes shall be iron and brass; and as your days, so shall your strength be.” This was actually a prophesy given by Moses to the tribe of Asher just before his death.

Asher’s land was fruitful and mountainous. To the people who lived in hilly terrain, God promises “iron shoes” for the roads they must travel.

From this we may take a very simple application. Every year is the beginning of a new journey. How will we fare? What will the road be like? Will our way be rough or easy? Our text suggests that we may have some rough road to travel before the year is done.

If our path is to be strewn with flower petals, velvet slipper will do. If all we’re going to do in 2015 is to sit and watch television, we don’t need iron shoes, thick socks will do. But if we plan to walk rocky roads, we need good footwear. As coaches like to say: no pain, no gain, no struggle, no growth.

Then there is the last part of the verse – a promise of great provision: “As your days, so shall your strength be.” God will give strength for every kind of day we may face. Some days are filled with joy, light, and happiness; others will sadness, tears, frustration, pain and heartache. Whatever each day brings, there will be strength enough to meet it.

Ron Rolheiser, in commenting on our readings of today uses the phrase: “Every tear brings the Messiah close.” He says that people are always impatient, but God is never in a hurry.

Our scriptures are often a record of frustrated desire, of non-fulfillment, and of human impatience. We are always longing for a messiah to take away our pain and to avenge oppression, but mostly those prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.

And so we see in scripture the constant, painful cry: Come, Lord, come! Save us! How much longer must we wait? Why not now? Where are you staying? We are forever impatient, but God refused to be hurried. Why is God seemingly so slow to act? Why is God so excruciatingly slow to act in the face of human impatience?

There’s a line in Jewish apocalyptic literature, which metaphorically helps answer this question: Every tear brings the Messiah closer! It would seem that there is an intrinsic connection between frustration and the possibility of a Messiah being born. It seems that messiahs can only be born after a long period of human yearning.

Human birth already helps answer that question, gestation cannot be hurried and there is an organic connection between the pain a mother experiences in childbirth and the delivery of a new life. And that’s also true of Jesus’ birth. Tears, pain, and a long season of prayer are needed to create the conditions for the kind of pregnancy that brings forth a messiah into our world. Because the real love and life can only be born when a long-suffering patience has created the correct space, the virginal womb, within which the sublime can be born. Perhaps a couple of metaphors can help us understand this.

John of the Cross, in trying to explain how a person comes to be enflamed in altruistic love, uses the image of a log bursting into flame in a fireplace. When a green log is placed in a fire, it doesn’t start to burn immediately. It first needs to be dried out. Only when it reaches kindling temperature can it ignite and burst into flames. Speaking metaphorically, before a log can burst into flame, it needs to pass through a certain advent, a certain dying out, a period of frustration and yearning. So, too the dynamics of how real love is born in our lives. We can ignite into love only when we selfish, green, damp logs have sizzled sufficiently, and the fire that makes us sizzle is unfulfilled desire.

Pierre Teihard de Chardin offers a second metaphor here when he speaks of something he calls “the raising of our psychic temperature.” In a chemistry laboratory it’s possible to place two elements in the same test tube and not get fusion. The elements remain separate, refusing to unite. It is only after they are heated to a higher temperature that they unite. We’re no different; it’s only when unrequited longing has raised our psychic temperature sufficiently that we can move towards reconciliation and union. Simply put, sometimes we have to be brought to a high fever through frustration and pain before we are willing to let go of our selfishness and let ourselves be drawn into community.

Messiahs can only be born inside a particular kind of womb, namely one within which there’s enough patience and willingness to wait so as to let things happen.

Hence, ideally, every tear should bring the messiah closer. Every frustration should ideally make us more ready to love. Every tear should ideally make us more ready to let go of some of our separateness. Every unfulfilled longing should ideally lead us into a deeper and more sincere prayer.

Brothers and sisters, it’s time to put on our iron shoes! And off we go, adventuring into this year. May God help us to press on to know the Lord better in 2015.

 

Reflection for January 11th, 2015 by Rachel Heft

Reflection for January 11th, 2015

Baptism of the Lord Feast

 

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist and Jesus perform the now well-known ceremony of baptism.   I love baptisms –the hope and endless possibility for new life, the holiness, the forgiveness, the welcome given to new disciples, the white garment, the candles… it’s all so full of wonder and beauty.

But obviously that’s not the kind of baptism Mark is referring to. John the Baptist, the desert-dwelling wild-honey and locust-eating, camel hair clothed, Biblical bush-man dunking inhabitants of Jerusalem in the Jordan River and claiming this results in forgiveness of sins.  All the while, John is making grand statements about a mighty and powerful one who is yet to come who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

Imagine a similar situation today.  A scruffy, wild looking man who lives in the Gatineau Hills is making grand statements about the coming of a Messiah and offering to rid you of your sins if you take a plunge in the Ottawa River.  Are you getting in that line?  I’m going to guess the answer is no.

And yet, I suspect most of us admire John. He represents the true believer, the proclaimer of the Good News. We’re supposed to want to emulate him.  His devotion, his humility, his confidence in sharing the miracle of baptism at a time when baptism of repentance was not common or viewed as necessary for the Jewish people…

So if we’re not getting in line, how are we each, at the very least, proclaiming our faith outside this building?

I don’t know about you, but most of my friends aren’t practicing Christians.  While many of us come from Christian traditions, I’ve found that, when speaking honestly, the average person’s perspective on practicing Christians is closer to the way in which I’d regard John the Baptist if I met him on a modern-day street corner.  Unrealistic and gullible.

My experience in daily life has taught me that most practicing Christians of us must be closet-Christians.  We don’t walk around with billboards advertising our religion (ok, I take it back, Father Andy pretty much has a billboard… but the rest of us don’t)

We don’t introduce ourselves “hi I’m Rachel, I’m Roman Catholic”, we don’t usually hang crosses on the outside of our homes, and I don’t often hear grace being said at restaurants. Why is that?

My own religious practices tend to come up in passing, explaining why I can’t join Sunday morning running groups, or where I know one of you from when I bump into you on the street, or why my 2 year old son is always talking about baby Jesus when someone mentions Santa Claus.

And it strikes me as odd, whenever these things come up, that my colleagues, friends, and acquaintances tend to raise their eyebrows at me and say “You’re a Catholic?”  What is it? The strong, outspoken personality? The socially liberal values? Being a feminist? The red high heels? What exactly makes me so incompatible with being a Catholic?

After this initial shock, some people want to have a quick discussion about religion generally, tell me why they are not religious or ask which church I attend. Occasionally, I receive antagonistic reaction, a mocking joke (mostly meant in playful fun, but usually turns more than a little uncomfortable), and I try my best not to react, not to take it personally – because they don’t understand, and reacting will get me nowhere.

Then occasionally, weeks or months later, a colleague will come into my office to tell me how he’s spending Christmas Eve giving care packages to the homeless.  Or a friend will tell me she’s decided to start attending the church down the street in order to explore her spirituality.  Or someone who mocked my faith will share that they are having their new baby baptised.

I often don’t know why people come to me to confess these things. Are they quietly confiding their own beliefs to me because they think I’ll understand or approve?  Why do they care?  Why do they share?

This brings me back to today’s Gospel and to the other half of the story: Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.  As Jesus emerges from the water, a voice from the Heavens acknowledges him “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  God welcomes Jesus publically into his family for the first time.  We recreate this moment every time we baptise someone in this church.  Acknowledging that we will accept and support the new members of our Catholic family.  That we are united through Christ.

Is that’s what’s happening when others come to me with their quiet admissions? Somewhere, in all this mess of callousness, is there is still a shred of belief and hope?

Are they trying to get back to their faith by doing charitable work, or acknowledging that their child will miss out if left without the formal initiation to faith?  Are they quietly asking for acknowledgement that they’re part of our Christian family – even if they aren’t wearing crosses around their necks?

Perhaps God doesn’t need each of us to be John the Baptist.  Maybe admiring him and being inspired to continue to live out our faith is enough – even though we too are flawed, even though we are openly questioning different aspects of faith, even if we are feminists who wear red high heels and don’t fit the stereotype of the traditional Catholic.

Through my interactions with various acquaintances, I’ve come to realize that unlike others I’ve never believed there’s anything hypocritical about being a practicing Catholic and not fitting the archetype of the perfect Catholic.  Good grief, who in this room fits that description?

Nor do I think it’s impossible for a person who spends time dedicated to critical thinking, or politics, or social activism, or sports, or the arts to also have a strong faith.

I look around this room and see people of different views, levels of education, interests, ages, backgrounds – teachers, students, athletes, cooks, mothers and fathers, children and teens, hairdressers, public servants, nurses, computer experts, runners, musicians, gay persons and straight persons – how many of us fit the stereotype of the “good Catholic” – and by good, I don’t mean kind and helpful, I mean unquestioning and gullible.  Somehow, that’s the realization that others come to when they raise their eyebrows at me and say – “you’re Catholic?”  What they’re trying to say is “but you don’t fit my expectation of what a Catholic looks like or acts like.

God doesn’t need each of us to be John the Baptist, God needs each of us to be our true selves and to accept one another.  To see beyond the stereotypes of what a Catholic is or should be and to know that we can get there a different way – Though maybe we could try to say grace at restaurants a little more often!  Because others need to know that our Catholic family is diverse.   Only a diverse family can claim “everyone is welcome”, and through Baptism we all accept that we’re all practicing our love for God; doing our best, and willing to let others try, in their own way, to do their best too.

 

By Rachel Heft

Reflection for December 28th, 2014 by Marc Caissy

Reflection for December 28th, 2014 by Marc Caissy

Feast of the Holy Family

For printable version: Reflection for Sunday, Dec. 28th – Marc Caissy_Expect the Unexpected

Expect the Unexpected

A reflection on Holy Family Sunday (B) by Marc Caissy

Genesis 15. 1-6; 17.3b-5, 15-16; 21. 1-7

Hebrews 11.8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2. 22-40

 

What a coincidence that, on this “in-between” Sunday, when we’ve learned once again that a little togetherness goes a long way, we’re invited to look at what it means to be family.  Naturally, our eyes turn toward the Nativity Scene where we get all emotional, wishing and hoping our families could be, or could have been, as peaceful and perfect as the one gathered around the manger.

We all too easily forget that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were just as human as you and I. Their story is one of lives not turning out according to expectations.

Who would expect a child who could:

– breathe life into birds fashioned of clay?

– resurrect a friend who fell from a roof?

– produce a feast from a single grain?

Pseudo-miracles, of course, narrated by a 2nd century author intent on giving the Christian Son of God super-powers similar to any divinity of the day.  Needless to say, this infancy narrative never made it to the level of the four Gospels.

Even so, what we do know about the early years of Jesus’ family shows that their lives had very unexpected turns indeed.  Here we have a teenage girl visited by an angel who announces she will be the mother of the long-awaited messiah but the pregnancy begins before she’s formally married.  The father, anxious to avoid a scandal, plans a discreet exit for Mary, but is told in a dream not to send her away.  The baby’s birth is heralded by choirs of angels but Joseph is warned in another dream to flee Judea.  His family ends up as refugees in a land where his people were once slaves.

In today’s gospel, Luke narrates another unexpected event in the life of this poor family from Galilee.  In the Temple for the purification ritual, they bump into Simeon, a devout senior, who held on to life only to see the promised Messiah.  At the sunset of his years, Simeon’s prayers are answered as he gets to hold the Emmanuel in his arms.  Just how unexpected was THAT encounter for Mary and Joseph?  Luke writes that they stood “amazed” at Simeon’s words.  As if that wasn’t enough, an 84 year old widow happens to walk by and proceeds “to speak about the child to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

In the 1st reading, Abraham and Sarah experience intense joy when the Lord promises them a son in their sunset years. Simeon experiences a similar joy because Yahweh kept his promise, / i.e. that he would see the Messiah before passing on.  BUT how much astonishment could Mary and Joseph take before bewilderment slipped into disbelief?

This is where we remind ourselves that we’re celebrating the Holy Family.  What is it that made them holy?  We find an answer in the 2nd reading.  FAITH, we read in Hebrews 11, “is the assurance of things hoped for, / the conviction of things not seen”.  The expression “by faith” is repeated three times in reference to Abraham, who “set out for a place, not knowing where he was going”, and to Sarah, Abraham’s barren wife, who became pregnant with a man too elderly to have children.  Expect the unexpected!

Today we celebrate the holiness of this family because of the quality of their trust in God.  To paraphrase Benedict XVI, they had the faith of the “anawim”, i.e. those who not only see themselves as poor,  because they shun wealth and power, but also because of their deep humility, (…) which kept them radically open to the bursting in of grace.”  To use pope Francis’ words, Jesus’ family is holy precisely because they were open “to be surprised by the freshness, fantasy and novelty of the Holy Spirit”1.

However, surprises are not only merry and bright.  Just as Abraham accepted to sacrifice Isaac, the son through whom / God’s promise was to be fulfilled, old Simeon warns Mary / that future events in her son’s life would be as a sword piercing her soul.  You see, the wood of the manger is never far from the wood of the cross. 

Though pain and suffering were on their horizon, the Three from Nazareth trusted the Holy Spirit present in each one of them.  Today, they not only challenge but help us to grow that quality of trust in Him.

– They stand next to parents anxious about their children’s welfare.

– They walk with immigrants and refugees cut off from loved ones.

– They comfort teen moms and single parents, adoptive and blended families, joint-custody and same-sex families.

– They console prisoners, outcasts, the bullied, the abused, especially children forced to become child-soldiers, slaves, usually victims of unspeakable violence.

When we find ourselves confronting the unexpected, we need to remember Joseph and Mary gathered ’round Jesus in the manger.  For every kind of family under the sun, the Three from Nazareth remain role models for the values God dreams modern-day families can embody.

Finally, let us also remember the closeness of the cross. It was part of their life and it is also part of ours.  Constantly having to cope with circumstances that didn’t turn out according to expectations,  the Holy Family demonstrated unwavering hope, openness and trust.  In other words, they taught us how to be holy.

 

1  Pope Francis in a Dec. 2014 address to the Roman Curia.

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