Reflections from the Vineyard

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I spent this weekend helping facilitate a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat for post-abortive women and men.  Here are a few reflections from the weekend as well as the homily from our closing Mass for the weekend.

Homily for Sunday’s Closing Mass

The readings this weekend provide much opportunity as we close out this retreat to reflect upon and put ourselves into the story of the man born blind as we hear in John’s Gospel. The one striking thing about Jesus, different from the rest, is that he doesn’t buy into the blame or shame game that everyone around him tries to inflict upon the other and him. Somehow someone is to blame for the blindness of this guy, he’s now healed, and now someone must pay for this healing; he is no longer there for the others, the crowd, to inflict their own pain, guilt and shame onto and are left to look at themselves, if they are at all capable. Yet, Jesus wants nothing to do with it all he wants is to give the guy what his heart desires…healing and a restoring of his dignity as a human person; that’s it! The blame game is where the Pharisees take it and even the guys parents try to inflict their own pain onto others, never seeing that this guy’s not a blind guy but rather a guy who happened to be born blind, and their is a difference. All too often we identify ourselves in that way…many men and women have identified themselves by the abortion that they have had like many of you, and yet, this weekend has been simply about what Jesus does to the man born blind; he heals and he restores lost dignity. As a matter of fact, a good way to know if you are on the road to recovery or healing is when you no longer have to blame others, not even yourself. If everything is still everyone else’s fault and to blame and somehow you live with that victim mentality, as we have seen, we must first realize and accept that everyone out there is also us and when hurt we have a tendency to take on everyone else’s pain as our own, leading us further into the darkness that Paul speaks of in today’s second reading. The past two days we have said, “Enough.” I will no longer allow myself to be identified in that way and I can finally begin to embrace who I really am…a sinner in need of healing, going to the One who offers it freely, restores me to my dignity as a human being, and yes, finally, embrace that I truly am a daughter and a son of God.

Day One: As the stories begin to unfold before you, it’s hard not to well up in tears as you recognize and relate to the pain that so many people carry with them throughout their lives. How many have felt abandoned by their mothers and fathers, left to an ongoing search for love and acceptance elsewhere or forced to make grown-up decisions long before brains and hearts are even capable because of a choice. The bottom line so often is, “do nothing to disgrace the family.” It doesn’t matter how much pain you will have to carry throughout life, this unshattered persona, that we leave the world wanting to see and believe doesn’t actually exist, often does more harm than good. So often in this experience it is then transferred even onto Holy Mother Church…do nothing to disgrace, and unfortunately onto the ever-judging God who we think and have come to believe can never understand the pain that we hold onto. It’s my pain and that pain gives me identity and the safety that hasn’t existed in my life. We don’t quite notice until we are far gone that all that protection of the persona leads to greater isolation and a deep-seeded shame that prevents us from ever hearing the tender voice of God calling us out of darkness into His own wonderful light. That tender voice is so often drowned out by loud screams which we learn will only shut up when they are fed, leaving them wanting more and more until we begin to believe that the darkness is the light, that somehow I have to accept that this is just the way it is and I need to move on with my life, even if it is an endless cycle of poverty within our souls. Ah, the great lie that we tell ourselves into believing that no one else will ever understand, not even God can forgive me for how I have disgraced the family and the Church by my sin. Yet, it is by trusting that tender voice that tries to separate itself from the screams, always calling us home and never leaving us, that we begin to see and experience the perfect Parent in God, who holds the light and the dark of our lives, and only in this God can the weapons of judgment and self-hatred be transformed into the gift of His grace, love, and forgiveness. What inevitably follows is the greatest gift we can offer the world, a voice, a tender voice that now speaks through the woundedness of our lives in leading others to life.

Day Two: I happened to overhear someone say today that there is no greater burden than trying to be me. I thought to myself that there were probably no truer words spoken, that when we feel we need to try to be me and typically something or someone that I am not, there is a huge burden placed on our shoulders to try to continue to live up to a persona that is what we have been led to believe over the course of our lives as to who we really are only to find out at some point that all that work was only to get me to the point that it’s a part of who I am but not who and whose I really am. Whether we like it or not, good or ill, we are all a product of the relationships that we grew up with, being family and friends, who have helped us to create an illusion, a “blind spot” per se that gave us the space needed to defend ourselves from hurt. I’ve seen over and over again on these weekends how that blind spot is so often what we have found difficult with our own parents, that somehow they were never quite who we wanted or needed them to be and instead of entering relationships that follow in love, we go in search of that “perfection” that we never quite found in those authority figures, whether in our spouses or in the Church, rather than accepting that that’s them in us, whether a critical parent voice or a voice that tells you that you’re never quite good enough, they are a part of who we are and when we reach midlife and we still believe that that’s who we really are, then those words really are true that who I am is more a burden than a life well lived, or for that matter, fully lived. It is amazing how much we can live in denial of our make-up and as we speak of all these other people in our lives, we really speak of us, our illusions, our blind spots, which, often only after a breakdown in life, a near death experience, years of carrying grief after loss and so on can we ever begin to say, “I can’t settle for that anymore. My life has to be about so much more.” And only by the grace of God and good mirrors in our lives can the veneer finally begin to be broken and we can see who and whose we are, sons and daughters of God.

Day Three: Healing the Tabernacle–We all hold pain in different parts of our body. There may be nothing more humbling than as when we pray our final living scripture when someone asks for continuing healing of their womb. We never quite know the story behind someone’s pain until we have the opportunity to listen and have the space within us, free of judgment, to ask another to tell their story and the pain that they have held onto for years, due in part to choices that have been made or even when someone strips us of our dignity and forces themselves onto and within us, leaving us scarred for what seems like an eternity. One person dubbed it, the “lost decade” of their life. That’s how it so often feels, numb to everything and our bodies seem like dead weight, a storage bin for waste, so it feels in that lost time, until it can be restored and healed. All the effort that is made into making sure the tabernacles that house the Body of Christ in our churches is made with the most precious of metals, adorned with light, locked to protect, and yet, the tabernacle we live with daily isn’t given it’s proper place. We are told that it’s not important, we are convinced it’s never good enough, we abuse it and so often treat it with little regard, as if somehow it’s something we are stuck with in this life. Yet, I think of the Christ, lying in a manger. I think of Christ, forming in the womb of Mary. Is not this tabernacle we call our body, just as, if not even more, valuable than the golden palace? We all carry pain and shame differently in our body and through our body so often due to harm and trauma we have endured. We believe in the resurrection of the body…there it is and today God wants to heal the tabernacle that has experienced that trauma, heal the tabernacle that has given birth, heal the tabernacle that we call our body, and heal the tabernacle of this body gathered here today in His name. Where is it that pain is held in your body? Ask God to send healing graces to where you most hurt and have been hurt, seeking out resurrection of the body today.

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