The Capacity for God

I must admit, when I agreed to participate in priestly renewal at Notre Dame this summer, I really had no idea what I was signing up for at that time.  I knew it had a name, the Bishop D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal, part of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.  I knew it was free.  I knew it was at Notre Dame, a place I’ve always wanted to visit.  Of course, I also knew it was about priestly renewal.  Even that, though, I probably have my own idea and judgment about what exactly that means and how it can be defined by each of us, based on our own needs and desires.

Shortly after beginning his pontificate, Pope Francis often used the image of the Church as field hospital.  We all know that when it comes to hospitals, there is some knowledge or acceptance on our part that we may be sick, whether something minor or even terminal.  When it comes to Church life and the understanding of the image of field hospital, the second half of the equation is not always known and we often live in denial of the illness or for that matter, blame others for it.  Sometimes when you’re so close to the sickness you become immune or even numb to it, ultimately making you a part of the problem rather than an agent of healing and conversion.  We become blind to the deeper issues that we need to face while trying to band-aid when often surgery is the necessary route, or at least some restful care to regain the capacity to once again thrive.

I know this is all a rather long introduction to my point, but a point that is necessary in understanding what this week at Notre Dame has been for me.  Here’s the thing, those closest to me knew that I was burned out by the end of June, feeling fatigued and simply exhausted.  It was a transition year for me in moving from being pastor of one parish and taking on a second.  Despite the fact that they are a mere mile apart, it, over time, began to take a toll on me, especially interiorly.  My point is, I was in need of that field hospital myself without even knowing it at the time, while being immersed in the day to day routine.  That should have been a sign that a check-up was needed; everything was becoming routine.  I was becoming numb to it all, gradually forgetting why I was a priest in the first place, allowing myself to be pushed to the triage unit, which I was unfamiliar and new to trying to navigate, when, at times, I was the one in need.

Now don’t get me wrong, I never stopped doing what I needed to do, such as celebrating Mass and even having the time for personal prayer, but over the course of time, and after having the time to step away this week, to reflect, to listen, to allowing myself to be ministered to, I began to realize that the clock seemed to be managing me much more than the other way around.  Over time, it was easier to just escape for awhile, knowing that I had reached the bottom within myself, often without the capacity to give or receive, and try to gain enough muster to get through another day and another week, at least until the field hospital opened its doors to me and am once again breathing without a ventilator and no longer feeling like I’m on the brink of death.

One of the dangers of Church life and ministry is to become consumed by the weeds, which Jesus himself uses as metaphor.  Dealing with problems, fires, people, and the multitude of personalities and agendas , and now times two, began to consume me and I didn’t realize how ill I was becoming and in need of that field hospital, to mend wounds, deal with resentment, theologically contextualize the reality, and to reconnect with the larger priesthood that I am a part of and was ordained to for now thirteen years.  The crying child within, overwhelmed by the noise, needed to be cared for and loved.

For the past ten years, I have taught high school juniors not only the need for conversion but also have led them through that process.  Any of us knows that, just because we can lead others doesn’t mean we can always lead ourselves there.  The best leaders are often those that know how to follow.  It requires the help of the field hospital, a team, to lead you back to health and to a deeper understanding of the mystery of the life in which I have felt called and the capacity to fall into that mystery without the feeling of drowning, it’s arch-nemesis which likes to disguise.  There’s no book and no six steps that can bring about the perfect priest or parish, for that matter, (whatever that means anyway), all we can do is continuously allow ourselves to surrender to the mystery of God’s grace and mercy in our lives and through it we are changed, our environments are changed, the lens in which we view life is changed, broadened, and deepened, and ultimately the world begins to change.  The first step, though, is to acknowledge there’s a problem, even when we don’t know what it is and allow ourselves to be checked into the field hospital for care.  It may only require some medicine to sooth the soul, but it at least prevents something more terminal.

Each night I’d end my day down at the Grotto here on campus, often being bit alive by mosquitos, but there nonetheless.  Each night I’d watch people come and go, renewing a sense of wonder in myself as to what brings them there, seeking prayer and understanding, lighting candles for someone or something.  I sat, I listened, even to a young man in tears next to me one evening, knowing that this spot was a field hospital for him, in need of some kind of healing in his life and quite possibly in the life of someone he loved. Each night he’d return and pray, light more candles, making his offering to the Divine Physician. No words were necessary.  Simply a light, some tears, and an openness to the grace at hand.  I suppose the one good thing about field hospitals is that they are 24-7.  At least for the past week, whether at the Grotto, hearing confession with young people, in sessions with other priests, laughter, connecting with some of the people I encountered on campus, or simply walking through this campus, this became the necessary field hospital in my life, first to acknowledge that I had become ill and then to accept the doctors and the Doctor and the care they provided to bring about healing, the capacity to give and receive this mystery, and of course, renewal.

Our Richest Soil

Matthew 13: 1-23

“Why do you speak to them in parables?” the disciples ask of Jesus today.  It was one of the few lines that struck me in today’s gospel reading for two reasons.  One, that in the midst of the crowd that has gathered to listen to Jesus at this point, the disciples seemingly separate themselves from this body, as if Jesus was somehow speaking to the crowd in parables but may not mean much to the disciples, in that they refer to “them” in posing the question.  The second is, even in the telling of parables, do the disciples understand?

The parables of Jesus are not always easy for any of us to understand, especially when it’s based on first century agriculture and others that seem to just leave us scratching our heads.  Yet, like the disciples, we too want to separate ourselves as well, as if this message is special for us and somehow we have a special understanding of what he’s talking about.  As humans, we also expect black and white thinking as if there’s one way to understand and live and if I follow that then I’ll somehow know God or have relationship with this Jesus guy.

However, that’s oversimplifying parables and by no means are we separate from the message, even if it may say something to me that’s different than all of you.  Only God knows where my heart is on this journey of faith and whether I like to admit it or not, whether it’s rocky ground, thorns, or the richest soil you can imagine, my heart and my life tends to be in all of those places at the same time, and like the disciples, I want to try to start separating it out, ignoring the rocky ground since it’s worthless, pull out the thorns as to not hurt myself or others, and simply focus on the rich soil.

When we do that to ourselves or others, we tend to miss the point of the parables as well and wind up cutting off parts of ourselves that we have somehow deemed unworthy or worthless by a standard I have set for myself and others.  It’s not so much that the disciples want to separate themselves from the others.  It just so happens to be the reality when the begin to ignore the rocky grounds and try to pull the thorns, even though deep down we know that all of it makes up who we are and somehow in order to experience the richest of soils, we have to do some heavy gardening in our own lives, not by destroying what we feel is useless, but allowing ourselves to view it through the life that comes forth from the richest of soils.

We all wish we can live our lives from that place but anyone that works at this type of gardening understands that we’re never quite there and it’s never quite enough for us until we learn to accept the landscape not as we believe it should be but as it is.  In those moments, we begin to experience the possibilities of the garden and of our very lives, not cut off from what we have conditioned ourselves to dislike, but rather to embrace it and love it with the richest of soils.

The people we encounter in our lives who we view simply as rocky ground or certainly thorns, and we can all name them, are often the ones that have the most to teach us about the parts of our own landscape that we have cut off and continue to cut off because we feel they have made us unworthy in some way.  Low and behold, they become those lost possibilities in our lives because we learn to love them in a new way, a deeper way, an unconditional way. 

If you have ears you ought to be able to hear.  If you have eyes you ought to be able to see.  If you have a heart you ought to be able to love.  It is the lifelong process we call faith and acceptance by allowing the rocky ground and thorns of our lives to be brought to the light, over and over again, to move to a place of wholeness and holiness.  It’s the only way the garden grows and reaches its potential in life.  Why does he speak in parables?  Well, quite frankly, because not one of us is alike and we enter this journey in varied ways, speaking to us at different points and in different ways, but always moving us to the same place, a deeper place, the garden of life that continues to show itself within so that we can recognize that potential in the world, especially among the rocky grounds and thorns that, more than anything, need rich soil, depth, and love.

Pay Attention

Romans 8: 9, 11-13; Matthew 11: 25-30

From the time we are kids, we are taught to “pay attention” to certain things.  Of course, as kids it’s necessary because it often keeps us safe and secure even from perceived dangers.  However, as we age, it often grows into judgment, stereotype, even guilt and shame, that seems to dominate our lives where we begin to think what we have paid attention to is truth.  But over that time, despite some of its necessity early on, it begins to overshadow who we really are, hide our truest self from ourselves, often distorting our image of God, but also separating and dividing us not only from others but from ourselves as well.  It makes it nearly impossible to deal with problems because we try to fix what was caused by it in the first place.

It’s that place of hiddenness and what has been overshadowed where Jesus tries to lead the disciples in today’s gospel when he speaks of what has been hidden from the wise and learned but rather revealed to the little ones.  As is often the case, he’s speaking after an experience with the Pharisees where they once again found themselves in conflict with one another.  One way in which what we “pay attention” to rears its head is when things aren’t good enough or it’s never enough because the Pharisees continue to look through life through a rather narrow lens, which is what happens to all of us over time.  When it came to John the Baptist, they had problems.  When it comes to Jesus, it’s still not good enough for them.  More often than not they weren’t paying attention to the right things and got so caught up in the law that they become blinded.  It creates this tension and conflict and eventually to the violent act of the crucifixion.  He doesn’t necessarily react to their way but rather tries to expand the lens and understanding, which they often weren’t able to see but saw him as a threat to their way of life and thinking for that matter.

Whether you know it or not, it’s also what Paul speaks of in the second reading today to the Romans.  It’s probably one of the most misinterpreted passages in all his letters because we try to keep it only skin deep.  We probably have all heard it interpreted as “sins of the flesh”.  Like kids, that may work for a period in our lives, but that’s not the deeper meaning to what Paul is speaking of nor is it what he’s challenging them to pay attention to in their lives.  If we take out the word “flesh” from the passage and insert words like ego, what we pay attention to, or even that Pharisee within us, that’s more the point that Paul is trying to make.  Getting trapped in that place in our lives often leads to conflict and even hostility towards God and others.  It’s not a deeper life in the spirit as he speaks of, but one of conflict.  It ultimately is what Paul tries in his writings to lead people to learn to let go of; not their body, but their control tower, their ego, what they have been conditioned to pay attention to and yet now stands as an obstacle, which in other letters he also calls it.  This point where we don’t feel satisfied or things are never good enough, for Paul, is recognition that we aren’t living from the right place, from the divine, from the Christ within our very souls.  If we want to seek solutions to a world of problems, we must first be willing to make that journey ourselves and face our own violence and blindness.

It is the invitation that Jesus gives to the disciples and to us today as the gospel continues.  He says to come to him all who labor and are burdened.  Come to me all of you that are struggling in one way or another.  This invitation isn’t just about handing our problems over to God and somehow they disappear.  No, the invitation that Jesus gives is to move beyond the struggle, often defined by what we pay attention to, and move to the place of the Christ and learn to live from that place.  It is the place where the judgement and stereotype, division and separation, begins to disappear.  It is a journey inward and a journey downward, and quite frankly, a journey that takes great humility to finally begin to admit that maybe what I have paid attention to is not the fuller picture.  It’s learning to live our lives inward out rather than the outward appearance of things defining us, who we are, and what we do.  It is a path that is quite difficult but the only path to a fuller life and where we finally become agents of change in the world.

All too often we try to deal with problems in this city, community, country, and world, by doing the same thing.  It leads to people butting heads and as we have seen in this city, a great deal of violence.  We are trying to solve problems with what separates and divides rather than moving to this deeper place within ourselves that unites us with God, others, and even ourselves.  This city and our lives do not need more separation and division and certainly do not need more violence.  But it will continue if we try to fix things by an old mindset.  The healing begins with me and you.  The healing begins when I can finally begin to ask myself, “What am I paying attention to?” and is it leading to healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and a more loving posture towards God and people or does it simply dig in my heels and lead to further violence.  If our faith and our religion are going to have any impact on our lives, it’s going to require change on our part, change in what we pay attention to, and be led to the deeper places of our lives, people of spirit and soul.  That is how we begin to make a difference here and everywhere, including our own families, in becoming the agents of change, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, while learning to let go of what only continues to separate and divide.  There’s no more time for any of that.  It’s time for a new way, a deeper way of living where we bridge differences and live lives filled with love, healing, and forgiveness.  First and foremost, what is it you find yourself paying attention to in life?

A Worthy Influence

2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16; Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11; Matt 10: 37-42

The connection the Church tries to make with our readings today, particularly the first and gospel, is that of hospitality.  The woman in the first reading is hospitable to Elisha as he passes to and from their town and then link it with the same message in today’s gospel from Jesus. And certainly hospitality is important and learning to be hospitable to one another could do great wonders for all of us.

However, I think we miss the point of the story if we stick to simply what we see and the obvious in these readings.  I don’t need to tell anyone here that in most of these stories the role of being hospitable was that of the woman of the home.  If we stick to that theme all we really do is enforce what is expected of her and in many ways make her small, confining her to a role and some social construct that she is a part of.

Notice in the story that she’s is not referred by any name but is called a woman of influence.  Of course when we hear that word certain things come to mind with people of influence, wealth, power, some kind of authority or whatever the case may be.  But that’s not true in this case.  That would be her husband in that time.  Her influence is something different, a worthy or holy influence.  There’s something different about her connection with Elisha that goes beyond simply being hospitable. 

Elisha has struggled with his own call of being a prophet even though she keeps referring to him as a holy person.  As the story continues, she will receive what Elisha promises, a son.  However, the son dies rather quickly, leaving her as it would any mother, simply beside herself trying to make sense out of all of it.  She will then proceed, with her holy influence, to make her way to Elisha, breaking every social barrier and construct in the way because of this deeper connection.  As much as she affirms his own prophetic call, he in turn, on a deeper level, affirms her own prophetic call, as if the divine is speaking to the divine with the two.  It doesn’t stop her from being hospitable and living the role that is expected of her, but it also doesn’t get in the way of being something more, something bigger.

That’s also the message that Jesus conveys to the apostles today as Matthew continues this understanding of the conditions of discipleship.  Please understand, Jesus is not telling them to somehow hate or not love their parents, their siblings, or anyone for that matter.  This message is about roles, identities, and expectations that they, and us for that matter, grow up with, that often stand in conflict of us going to that deeper place within ourselves.  We all grow up in some type of familial structure and social structure that has helped to define us and our place, just as it was for the disciples, maybe even more so at that time.  The message of Jesus is always about trust and letting go and to begin to identify ourselves through a different lens, through that of the Christ.  That is where we will find our truest identity and where the other relationships them flow.  As the learn to trust this deeper reality and calling, they will do as the woman does in today’s first reading in finding a worthy influence on the world.

That is the message of Paul as well today in the second reading to the Romans.  He reminds them that the Christ dies no more, the eternal, which Paul himself had to seek and find in his own life.  It is no longer about living for his own purpose and what the world calls him to be, in a defined role of sorts, but he now lives for God.  That’s what makes all these characters different and iconic figures for us in our own spiritual lives.  Sure she was hospitable and that alone is a good thing, but she is much more than that as well, just like myself and each of you.

None of it is easy and it is a lifelong process for each of us as we grow into this deeper identity where we learn to speak the divine to the divine.  It’s how we begin to see each other as equal because we are no longer limited by what we see with our eyes, what’s expected of society, or even what we have grown up with in our lives.  At some point all of it makes not only us small but everyone else we limit in the same way.  She was hospitable not because it was her role, but because she did everything in and through the divine, in and through the Christ.  We all have roles but the roles don’t define us as people, as much as we sometimes think they do and make us feel worthy or of influence.  In a worldly way, possibly, but not a worthy or holy influence as exhibited in the readings today.  Our greatest influence we can have on the world will never come with power and money and certainly not our pride.  Rather, it comes when we find that divine within and proceed to live our lives in the same we.  It’s how we find that equality and it’s how we see each other as brother and sister, no longer bound by our eyes and no longer bound by the world but rather a life lived in and through the Christ.  That’s the worthy influence we can and are called to in this world.

A Full-Hearted Love

Jeremiah 20: 10-13; Romans 5: 12-15; Matt 10: 26-33

When I’m doing weddings, I have all my couples fill out a questionnaire and of course one of the questions is what marriage means for them.  Working with young couples you get used to a lot of idealistic views and expectations that we know aren’t always the reality in our lives, no matter where we find ourselves committed.  The wedding I had yesterday, though, the groom had written something different and I then commented on it at the wedding.  He said something along the lines that it’s about giving 100%.  I’ve met many that enter into this commitment thinking it’s 50-50.  There’s two of us and we’ll somehow make it work.  But those in committed relationships for awhile know it doesn’t work that way.  As a matter of fact, it’s often what ends relationships.  No matter the case, the call is to give yourself 100%, full heart, often to someone or something bigger than yourself, to live the mission given.

I believe it’s the same message we hear from Jeremiah and Jesus in today’s first reading and gospel.  Jeremiah is probably the greatest example we have in Hebrew Scripture of the real struggle of moving to the place of fully committing to what God is asking.  He’s young, naïve, and quite idealistic, and feels as if God has somehow deceived him into this whole gig he’s got as a prophet.  He sees war, destruction, violence, and injustice, and no one wants to listen to him, and just finds himself tormented by the whole thing.  It’s not until Jeremiah begins to make the pivot in his life and see that all the injustice that is going on in the world is also happening within himself and that is preventing him from giving it his all.  He can’t fully commit to this God when his own heart remains divided, holding onto his own illusions and expectations of what it was supposed to be.  He will learn to let go and surrender to love in order to be transformed into this prophetic voice.  He will go on and give thanks to go but only after giving himself the space to struggle, and rub up against his own injustice before he can taste the freedom this God is offering him to send him on this mission.  As Paul tells us today, it’s this grace that will push us through, even when we’re not feeling 100%.  Otherwise, as he says, we’ll hold onto death and sin and our own injustice. 

The same is true for the disciples as they are sent out on mission in today’s gospel.  We jump ahead a few chapters from where we left off in ordinary time in February.  The last we heard was from the Sermon on the Mount but today the message is still practically the same.  The beatitudes end with the message that you will face persecution and today the first line is to fear no one.  Jesus is fully aware of the human condition and what it is that the disciples will face in their own lives and this commitment that they are being called to in life.  At first they are like Jeremiah, young and somewhat idealistic, but eventually the illusions start to fall away and they will find their own commitment being tested.  They will be lured by fear, the threat of losing their own lives, persecution, and great darkness.  They will witness it before their eyes and will be challenged to make the same pivot at Jeremiah to see it within themselves.  If their mission is to be agents of peace and reconciliation and a more just society, they will first have to confront their own illusions and what they hold onto for self-preservation.  Of course, we know that the twelve will move to that place and make that pivot to committing themselves with their whole heart to the mission that is being asked of them.  As we hear from Jeremiah, it’s hard but it the demand of not only the gospel and the committed relationships that we’re in, whether marriage, priesthood, or however we commit ourselves, but also the demand of being a disciple for each of us.

We all know that we can never be 100%.  It’s nearly impossible as humans and the human condition that we are all a part of, but it remains a process that we are invited into in our lives when it comes to not only our relationship with others but with God.  It’s a struggle and something we must wrestle with ourselves, a constant letting go and surrendering to find that 100% within ourselves.  More often than not, whatever we let go of or allow to die wasn’t necessary anyway.  It’s something that has offered us security or even fed into our own fears, our own way of self-preservation.  What are the fears we hold onto, our own ways of preserving ourselves?  What holds us back, knowing full well that the way we see the world around us is the world within us?  Where is the terror and injustice within our own hearts, keeping us from experiencing the freedom necessary to respond to God 100%?    Our mission is to be agents of peace and reconciliation, agents of that grace and love and we do that when we allow ourselves to become just that, especially allowing ourselves to become the love that changes our hearts forever.

Remembering to Forget

Deut 8: 2-3, 14-16; I Cor 10: 16-17; John 6: 51-58

There’s a rather obscure movie out right now, or at least I think so, called Dean.  The basic crux of the story is about a young man and his father who just keep clashing with one another because of this nagging grief that they share for the loss of their mother and wife.  They both have very different ways of dealing with what life has given them and neither understands the other.  Long and short of it, without even knowing it, separate themselves from one another to deal with their loss before they can once again come to a deeper understanding of their own relationship with one another and remember the love they have and share.  Quite honestly, it would be true of all of us here.  These deepest parts of ourselves, love, loss, grief, hunger, desire, all of them run so deep within us and often need to be found in our own way before we begin to see the oneness we have with the other and a shared love.

These two weeks now we’ve heard different versions of the story of the exodus of people Israel.  Today’s account comes to us from Deuteronomy.  The very first word out of Moses’ mouth today is simply to remember.  For the people today it was about this deepest hunger in their lives that they continue to seek out and to fill.  Much of their time, as it is with us, is forgetting who we really are in life and in our deepest self and love.  Israel was no different.  And, of course, over time, you begin to believe that you’re something other than you are.  You no longer remember.  For them it has been about their experience in the desert and the experience of slavery in Egypt.  They’ve thought God had abandoned them and somehow rejected them over time, punishing them for some reason.  But Moses simply reminds them today to remember.  It’s almost as if, as Moses points out, that they had to have this experience of the desert and to come into awareness of this deeper hunger in their lives before they can begin to remember once again.  So much, not only in their lives, must be forgotten and let go of before they can begin to question and remember and once again come together as community, more deeply rooted in their truest begin, in love.

Some who followed Jesus in those early days had similar experiences.  Shortly following today’s reading many will begin to disperse and fall away from Jesus.  They hear what he says, often taking it literally, and realize they just can’t do it.  Even in their own experience of separation from doesn’t necessarily lead them to the deeper places of their own lives.  They want to believe, as we often do, what we see and exactly what we hear in words.  But that’s not the Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel or who we encounter in this Eucharist week in and week out.  In his own way, John through Jesus and Christ through him is trying to move them to a place of remember their deeper identity as well.  As if, what speaks to us in this Eucharist can only somehow communicate with the deepest parts of ourselves.  It’s hard because we want to stay on the surface and go with what we feel, but this remembering takes us deeper than all of that.

Paul consistently tries to lead communities to that deeper place of understanding in their own lives.  They find other ways to separate themselves but in ways that often lead to divisions within their communities.  Even today, the larger context is to warn them about having more than one God.  That too is easy for us in our own process of forgetting not what we need to let go of, but forgetting that deeper love that we are.  We begin to satisfy those deepest longings and hungers within ourselves with something other than God, creating gods for ourselves, often fooling ourselves into believing that it will somehow satisfy, forgetting what is most important to us.

Over time all of this that we celebrate begins to be forgotten on the deeper levels.  We become more about worshipping, distancing ourselves not only from the drama of our lives but the drama that unfolds before us here.  We, over time, find ways to separate ourselves while this God, as it was for Israel, continues to offer manna, food that will satisfy, even in our desert experiences.  Yeah, in some ways I stand before you in a privileged position.  I stand at this altar celebrating the highs and lows of life, even my own.  I know the stories that flow through this table and Eucharist.  I have seen it unfold, trying to lead others in their deepest grief, their unsatisfied longings, and all the rest, to a place of remembering.  No matter what we may be experiencing in our own life, this Eucharist we celebrate and share it stands as a reminder of who we are and the life we are called to, a life of not simply worshipping this God, but allowing ourselves to be transformed by this God.  As we move to this Eucharistic celebration, remember.  Remember not only what you are but who you are in your deepest self, love.  In the midst of our own forgetting in life, the Eucharist calls us back to continue to be transformed into this love for an often divided and separated world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting UnStuck

Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; II Cor 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

Despite the passage of centuries, I do believe that to this day Moses, people Israel, and the whole experience of the exodus and exile has something to teach us about our own lives.  Their story really is our story.  We know what it feels like to live in exile from others at times, even from God.  It so often seems, in such contentious times with Moses and the people, that they lose their ability to relate to one another and to God and move towards cutting themselves off, moving into this tribal mentality of winners and losers, where, in the end, everyone ends up losing.

The same is true for ourselves and the climate in which we live these days.  On many levels we’ve lost the ability to relate to anyone different than ourselves and have really exiled ourselves from one another or at least from people that we have deemed the losers, the ones that think differently, creating this divide, and like people Israel, we have become stuck.  We can’t relate to others and then for that matter, with God.

Think about their experience, though, in relation to ourselves.  Despite this newfound freedom that people Israel experiences following the exodus, they don’t know quite what to do with themselves.  It’s as if they had become accustomed to being slaves in Israel that they no longer know how to live.  They don’t understand what’s up with Moses and his seemingly strange experiences, but they also don’t understand God.  Keep in mind that this experience has impacted them on a very deep level.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to abandon them.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to reject them over and over again, and now as they move to this place of freedom, they don’t know how to act and they certainly don’t know how to relate.  They react to it all and create these false gods for themselves, grouping themselves and finding, at times, a common enemy in Moses for leading them to this place.  It’s simply their experience but so is being stuck as they seem to become in the throws of the desert for years to come.  As Moses tries to lead them to a deeper understanding of this God, a God of mercy and generosity, their hearts remain closed and they become, as he so often refers, the stiff-necked people.  As life changes so does the way we relate to others and especially to God.

This is what we encounter in this snippet we hear from John’s Gospel today.  In its larger context is an interaction with one of the more interesting characters in the gospel, Nicodemus who’s known for coming to Jesus at night.  At this point in John’s community, some fifty years after their formed, there is a great deal of contention and division.  We have certainly heard that during the Lenten and Easter seasons as Jesus often found himself in conflict with the leaders.  Well, Nicodemus was one of them.  He has his own way of relating in the life of the community as a Pharisee and is not yet willing to put that in jeopardy so he comes to Jesus at night.  As much as people Israel didn’t know what to make of a God that wanted to enter into relationship with them, even centuries later they still can’t quite grasp now this God who takes the form of one of them in Jesus.  It causes more tribal thinking, certainly among the Pharisees who had their own way and were stuck in that thinking.  For them there had to be winners and losers.  For Nicodemus, despite being one of them, he finds himself somewhat attracted to this Jesus guy and what he’s all about.  For John it is a process we go through, of letting go and reconciling, allowing ourselves to move forward in life with a fresh take on the way we relate to one another and to God, not in some distant universe, but right here in the midst of our own lives as they unfold.

In the end, it’s probably Paul that sums it up best for us in today’s second reading and provides us the tool to look at our own lives and the way we relate.  Just because we’ve related in one way all our lives doesn’t mean that it’s the best way or even the healthiest way.  Again, we see that on the large scale in our political system and the divides, people moving to the extremes.  Paul reminds us to mend our ways.  Reconcile with one another.  Love stands as the foundation of relationship and community.  Work towards peace.  Among other tidbits of ideas that he shares with us today.  If we continue to cling to a God that rejects, abandons, or shames us, it’s just probably not God.  There’s a better chance that we can relate to people Israel and find ourselves stuck in life, just as we find ourselves politically.  It impacts all of us and the way we relate.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, maybe it’s time accept the invitation to be the fourth one at the table and being challenged to change the way we relate.  If we cling to tribal thinking, where we’re right and others are wrong, where truth becomes relative, where there needs to be winners and losers, well, guess what, we all lose and we are all losing because we’re being invited to move beyond our stuck-ness and grow into a deeper relationship that goes beyond ideology and politics, to the deeper reality of a God that continues to pursue a relationship with us from deep within our very being and through all creation we encounter.  Where are we stuck in our own thinking and understanding not only of others but of God?  That’s the place this God pursues us and desires greater and deeper intimacy with us, relating to us in a more profound and deeper way, with others, our community, and with the Mystery that continues to draw us to the place of mercy, generosity, healing, reconciliation, and certainly, love.