Stop Worrying!

Isaiah 49: 14-15; I Cor 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34

I have to say, one of the most disheartening things that I have seen as a priest are the amount of churchy people that worry about everything and live with so much fear. That’s not to say that there aren’t things that we all worry about and even fear. We certainly all know people who are sick, suffering from cancer, worry about health insurance, jobs, some these days fear being deported, heck, not far from hear many worry about whether they’ll still be alive tomorrow, and the list goes on, but so often it does beg the question that we can glean from today’s gospel, asking us where we put our faith. We can’t come here, in faith, believing that somehow God can transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and somehow can’t lead me to a place of transformation and conversion.

We’ve heard some challenging gospels the past several weeks as we delved deeply into the Beatitudes and the blueprint that Jesus puts forward as what it means to be a disciple and as Christian, in our language today. None of it has been easy and should be challenging us on many levels. However, this message of faith and trust lies at the heart of it all. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about dogma and doctrine. You know, none of that was around in the time of Jesus, but this level of trust as we hear in these readings today that somehow God will provide, despite our worries and fears.

Of course, we also live in a culture and society that is driven by consumerism and capitalistic America. Success means something to us today. However, the more we pursue it, the more it begins to take a toll on us when we begin to realize that we start creating gods and idols that we’d prefer to trust rather than to seek first the kingdom and keep our eye on the bigger picture of life and becoming consumed as consumers. That too begs the question as to where we are putting our faith. Unfortunately, that has even found its way into church and parish life. We want to be a successful parish. We want numbers. We need money. Before you know it, we simply become part of the problem because we begin to live our lives as the world does rather than seeking the kingdom. We become about building a business rather than leading people to faith in the true God who will continue to provide.

The same was true for people Israel whom Isaiah delivers this beautiful message in today’s first reading. He too reminds Israel about this faithful God despite their own unfaithfulness over the years. Think about them building their golden calf and the tower of Babel, thinking that will somehow take them to the God that they desired. It became about building and holding onto things, this god, for them, became about safety and security. It’s all the really wanted, even if it was an illusion of safety and security. But, of course, in time, that too all came crashing down around them and they find themselves in exile over and over again, lost, wandering in the desert, still trying to satisfy the lacking that they felt in their lives. Once again, they had to learn and ask where they were putting their faith and trust and was it really in a God that continued to provide. Sure it’s a scary proposition for us, especially in the face of so much uncertainty and so many realities that seem to scare us and invoke fear these days, but where are we putting our faith.

Paul tells us to seek that faith in the mystery in which we are stewards. It’s not something we own or hold onto, possess, but rather are caretakers of. This mystery, grounded in faith and trust, leads to freedom, where we can let go of the idols and gods that we have come to rely upon and even become addicted to over the course of our lives. His communities, especially Corinth who we have heard about these couple months struggled greatly with what it means to be a people of faith. Every community and person does. It’s the human struggle because we doubt and question, especially in situations where we worry, but as Jesus says, where does it get us.

As we round out this Ordinary Time in the Church and prepare ourselves to enter into a season of transformation and conversion, we must take with us this blueprint that Jesus has laid out before us the past several Sunday’s. They can’t just be left at the door now that we enter another season. Rather, they must continue to challenge us in the society and culture that we live. There is great fear and anxiety in the world and much to worry about. There is no denying that. But with each passing moment we must continue to ask ourselves where are faith lies and what idols do we continue to hold onto despite the disappointment that they often afford us. Is our faith in money? Is it in our success? Is it in what we own? Is it in an institution, including a Church that often disappoints?

Now imagine our lives with those scales falling from our eyes and that when we see bread and wine being transformed, in faith, so are our lives as well. Imagine that! It’s scary to think about it when these false gods have been seemingly so faithful to us despite the worry and fear they often invoke within us. As a matter of fact, it only seems to leave us feeling more short-changed in life. As we close out this time and enter into Lent, we can all do ourselves a favor by asking that simple question, where does our faith and trust lie? If it leads to fear, anxiety, and greater worry, well, it’s not in a God that always provides. Maybe it’s in a god that has kept us safe and secure, but it’s not seeking the kingdom and seeking a God who does faithfully provide.

Jesus Christ, Public Enemy Number One

Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18; I Cor 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48

What happens when the solution to our problems no longer works? Honestly, we have to prepare for it because the typical means of dealing with problems, these evils of the world, and so on, it is typically done through violence and fear. What happens when it doesn’t work anymore? Think about it, Jesus himself was public enemy number one. He was hated by the scribes and pharisees, as well as the political authorities of his day. He rattled their cages. He challenged the status quo. He preached this awful message of loving enemies, and yet, he was that person. For it, public enemy number one faces death, death on a cross. Why on earth would be we surprised that we would do the same thing? If we can do it to God, to Jesus, why not get rid of anyone and everything that stands in our way, our enemies. Yet, the message today is to love them.

So where do we begin. We first get rid of anyone with brown skin. We lock up black people. We bar Muslims. We can dump the President. We can get rid of Congress. There’s no need for the Church or any institution for that matter. Now, of course, we can throw in the press and the desire for truth and honesty. Let’s just get rid of everyone and everything that has become an enemy to our way of life. There is so much out there right now trying to open us to a place to look at ourselves and where we need to grow. But then what? When all else is gone, using the image that Jesus uses today, after I hand over my tunic and my cloak as well, I now stand naked, exposed, with no one else to blame for my problems, out of solutions, and after I use both my words and actions to take down the enemy, I’m left with myself and the greatest enemy of all, lying deep within myself, my own hurt and pain that I finally come to realize I can no longer outrun and no longer blame everyone else for in my life. If we’re willing to do it to Jesus, and none of us are innocent in this game, the only one left to destroy so often is myself.

Martin Luther King, Jr, in his sermon on this very passage said most of us live with “a persistent civil war that wages within”. It becomes the easiest of paths and the path of least resistance when we choose violence and hatred. It does make it easier, though, when we remove God from the scene. It’s the challenge that Leviticus faces in the first reading today. The writer speaks and writes of a God that is distant from the world. It’s so often easier to justify our wrongdoing and the bitterness that we hold onto in our hearts. It is so often that Christ within that tries to rattle all of our cages, moving us to a place of freedom in our lives where we can begin to deal with the injustices of the world and of our country. We mustn’t allow the oppressed and those who feel oppressed become the oppressor in return. If we are not living in that place of freedom ourselves, we so often resort to violence, and no, maybe not always physically, but with our gossip and talking about others behind their back. Violence doesn’t come just in the form of war, but often from our own mouths. That civil war becomes a persistent part of our lives when we desire to move to the place where we can love our enemies rather than destroy.

Paul warns of destroying God’s temple, which I am and you are and the community is, with Christ as the head. Paul warns them about taking advantage of those who may feel oppressed in the community of Corinth and beginning to think that somehow it’s about me and what I want rather than recognizing that we become instruments of God’s grace, a God who works through and with and in us. When we keep God at a distance we can put ourselves in that place of power, a power that is so then often abused and so the war begins of trying to take out anyone that stands in my way. Jesus was public enemy number one and if we’ve done it to him, who’s next? What happens when this solution to our problems, the deep hurt and pain we so often want to hold onto, no longer works, when we find ourselves, as individuals and as country, standing naked before the true God and the world, with no one else to blame for our problems, but now exposed for our own pain. It’s a humbling place to stand when we no longer have to fight that civil war and we can learn to love our enemy.

Sure, there are plenty of enemies in our world and plenty of evil at play. But the journey of faith that Jesus invites us into these weeks, leads us to that place of pain and the place of humility when I can finally begin to see that that damn enemy that I have been fighting all along is right within me, looking for attention and to be loved. Jesus understood first-hand, knowing that he was that enemy to so many, or so they thought. If he teaches us anything, it’s that when we allow ourselves to go to that place of pain and ask ourselves why we do hate and why we even desire to have enemies and what it is about them, we can finally hold the mirror to ourselves, individually and collectively, and realize it’s not a solution that we desire, but rather healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. An alcoholic will always think that alcohol is the solution to his problems, but in the end, it’s a destructive end to himself and others. Hurting people will always think that violence and “getting rid of” is the solution to our problems, but in the end, it’s destructive to ourselves and others. Sure it may give an immediate gratification and stroke our ego, but it’s never a long-term reality of the Kingdom that Jesus preaches.

The civil war will only persist in our lives if we don’t first deal with the enemy within ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to project it onto the world, continuing to hate and to hurt. We must live a life of resistance that heals, a resistance that forgives, a resistance that leads to a deeper love. That is why this gospel stands as one of the most difficult and most challenging that we hear all year. It’s not easy to love people around us sometimes let along those whom we have deemed enemy. It’s a sad way to live our lives when we give into such hate and violence. When we resist the temptation, and it will always be a temptation, to retaliate and exact revenge, we finally move to that place of freedom, free of any oppression in our own lives, to then begin to tackle the real problems that exist. Hate leads to more hate. Violence leads to more violence. It’s time to accept the challenge for all of us to hold that mirror up, with public enemy number one looking back, leading us to a place of love, forgiveness, and healing, first in ourselves and then for the salvation of the world.

Family Trials

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53

There are no mincing words in today’s gospel. It seems as if there’s no good news as Jesus speaks of division among family, if you believe good news is simply keeping the peace. We must, though, put it in context. For the past several weeks, probably back to the Good Samaritan in mid-July, Jesus has been, in one way or another, attacking different institutions. He doesn’t always do it by judgment directly, but rather through these rather provocative statements and stories which keep inviting the disciples into deeper understanding. He goes after the political authorities. He certainly goes after the religious institution of his day. So why not go down to the most basic of institutions that we all are a part of, family.

The time of Jesus was no different than our own. Institutions, including family, are about keeping the peace rather than seeking peace. Now we all know what that means. It’s about avoiding problems out of fear. There always seems to be the “elephant in the room” that no one is allowed to talk about out of fear how it is going to be seen by the rest of the world. It’s about avoiding these conflicts to grow and become more integrated people; it’s about keeping the peace as we have determined and anyone that tries to disrupt that is so often ostracized.

It should be no surprise to any of us that it would filter up into these larger institutions that we are a part of in this world. We have seen it in the Church over the years and the abuse scandal. It became about protecting the institution rather than the people. We certainly see it with our political parties. You even hear them say it that it’s for the party and not about the good of the country. Institution first before the people that are being impacted by it all. Even if you read any of the DOJ report on Baltimore this week you would have seen more of the same. It’s about protecting the institution rather than the good of the people. These realities are the same realities of the time of Jesus, but over these weeks he’s trying to move the disciples to see differently and hear differently. Today, he takes it to the core, the family, where so much of it begins and we learn our learned responses to dealing with life that we so often have to let go of in order to grow and become the prophetic voices of the disciples.

No one does it better than Jeremiah that we hear in today’s first reading. Who’s he up against? Political class. He’s facing the princes of his day who want him dead. Jeremiah has the conscience the size of the earth and doesn’t always know what to do with it. He struggles greatly trying to be faithful to the word of God in his life. He allows the word to change his heart and then struggles when he finds himself in these situations where he has to speak truth and raise consciousness of the leaders. So what do they do with him? He’s thrown into the cistern. He too is ostracized. They don’t try to reconcile the problems and seek the good. Rather, they blame him and try to get rid of what they think is the problem. King Zedekiah is thrown in the middle of it and is left with a choice. Is he going to keep the peace with the princes or side with Jeremiah. It’s so often advocates for the prophets that frees them and that’s the case for Jeremiah. He’s freed despite the danger that he poses to these institutions because of the interior freedom that Jeremiah continues to seek. That’s the peace that Jesus seeks for his disciples and us.

But there is a great price for living differently in that way. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the suffering that one must undergo in life with Jesus being the model for his disciples. He really isn’t about keeping the peace as we have come to know. Rather, he desires a deeper peace. It’s messy. It’s hard. It comes with great suffering and great cost with the possibility about being thrown into the cistern, sinking in the mud. But when we allow our hearts to be changed by the word and we grow as adults it comes with great freedom as it does for Jeremiah.

Unfortunately, we too continue to live at a time when prophetic voices are silenced. We don’t want to hear it on all levels of institution. We live in great fear so often and sell fear because it becomes the norm. Rather than confronting the real problems that this city faces, this country faces, and this world faces, we try rather to keep the peace and protect something that isn’t even real in the first place! We strive for our own interest rather than seeking a more just society by entering into the messiness of our lives, just as Jesus does for us.

As we continue in prayer today, we pray not only for families that do face great divisions but the divisions that exist on all levels of our lives. Rather than seeking to keep the peace we must enter into the difficult conversations to seek reconciliation in our lives and world. It begins at the most basic level of our lives, the family. We can’t expect change on greater levels if we’re not willing to do it in our own lives. Otherwise we simply blame and continue this cycle of victimhood all at the price of human lives. We pray for peace, not in the way we have come to know, but in the peace that Jesus desires for us; that our hearts may be opened to these words and change the way we see, hear, and love so that the kingdom that Jesus preaches may become a reality, a kingdom of eternal peace.

Lip Service

James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A few years ago I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t watch more than an hour of news a day. Quite honestly, it’s too depressing most of the time and much of it is useless chatter, especially now that we’re into this presidential cycle of elections. As I listen to them and the commentators, I can’t help but to think that it’s more of an election for high school or middle school class president rather than for the United States, the way they bicker with one another and all of us know full well, deep within, that much of it is lip service, and in turn, very little substance. Yet, that becomes a way of life for us in this world where we fail to look at what is most important and get caught up in the wave of lip service that, in the end, is divisive, means not much of anything and we become, once again, consumers with someone trying to sell us something.

Now this is nothing new, this lip service. Even in the time of Jesus, many of these gospels that we hear seems to be lip service of the scribes and pharisees and Jesus trying to lead them to that place of substance within themselves. Here we are again today. Do the Pharisees and scribes that now gather around Jesus really care about his well being or that of the disciples or the crowd that is moving in on Jesus? Not necessarily. They cared about what they have made into their own god, these laws and prescripts about washing hands and things. The confrontation comes when they care about that where as Jesus tries to lead them to what is in the cups and jugs, inside ourselves; that’s where the change needs to take place. Quite honestly, this is why so many have lost interest in politics and for that matter, the institutional Church, because it has been so much about the lip service, so often about making gods out of the rituals, the ideology, the thoughts, making them an end in and of themselves, rather than seeking the true substance that gives life, that fills the cups and jugs and allows us to live life to the fullest, to be people of integrity and faith.

Be doers of the word and not only hearers as James tells us in the second reading today. We attach ourselves to these false religions he writes, when the word doesn’t lead to action, when the interior and exterior aren’t jiving, when all of this is about practicing rather than living. When we simply hear the word and not allow it to change our hearts, we undoubtably end up using it against the other or ourselves, to bring them down, to build ourselves up, as the scribes and pharisees do in today’s gospel, rather than allowing it to change our hearts. We all know that guilt and shame that so often becomes the driving force of our lives, holding us back from the very substance of who we are. That’s why Jesus sounds so harsh at the end of the gospel today of the stuff that we carry around in our hearts and become rigid in our lives. We become about trying to change others to conform to us and our way rather than being changed by the encounter with Christ. Here they are, front and center, building in around him, and they aren’t moved to seek the substance of their very lives, remaining rather on the surface, caught up in the rules, offering nothing but lip service. How easy it is to make God into something that God is not, for all of us.

The readings challenge us today to look at our own lives and our own hearts. First, are we falling for the lip service of others, easily buying into the lies. Second, are we in turn doing the same in our own lives, merely lip service but not seeking the very substance that gives life within. Be doers of the word and not just hearers, allowing ourselves to be changed by the word. Be people of integrity, where we in turn live life from that place of substance, not getting caught up in the exteriors of the cups and jugs or our lives for that matter, but come to accept that it’s the very substance within, the deeper truth of our lives, that gives meaning to who we are moving us from settling for lip service in our own lives to people of integrity, of true faith, rooted in the very Christ that leads to the full life we desire.

You Are God’s Building

Ezekiel 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12; 1Corinth 3: 9-11, 16-17; John 2: 13-22

Since the beginning of salvation history, as read in Scripture, there is an ongoing tension of where one praises, thanks, worships, God. There is this tension that it must happen in a specific place, such as this church or that that temple or some synagogue. Certainly there is some significance to that and we continue to do it today. But God is not simply found in this structure. Jesus breaks that mold by moving around and ministering and being present in so many different places and leads us to finding God in all things.

In this day and age, when churches are closed and merged in many different ways, it too is challenging us to see and view church in new ways. I know my home parish up in Pennsylvania is no longer open and functioning. It’s hard for people because we become attached to the structures. They mean something to us throughout our lives but so often can no longer be sustained. The readings this weekend provide us the opportunity to look and see beyond church as a building and a specific place. As a matter of fact, Paul says today in his letter to Corinth, “You are God’s building.” It is you, me, we that make up this church beyond the building. If the building were to be fall today, church would still be because we would still gather and pray. It would still be a living body, growing, changing, and seeking conversion to newness of life.

Paul wanted that for the people of Corinth. He eventually works his way up to the many challenges facing the community but begins with this ongoing dialogue of what church and community are and can be. He has high expectations for the people. Yet, he is aware that there is divisions in the community. He realizes that some are being excluded from the eucharistic celebration of the community. Some are being singled out by others, and so he reminds them of their foundation in Christ. Christ was not one to exclude from the body but found ways to be inclusive, even when others thought they should be excluded. If they are to become the body, with Christ as the foundation, then they must build from that in including, especially those who are hurting, exiled, banished, and being pushed away and judged and deemed unworthy by the community.

Ezekiel, in the beautiful first reading we hear today reminds us that that life comes and flows from within each of us, building on what Paul says as we being the church, the building, we are mindful that we too must seek conversion and change in our lives, as individuals and as a community. If life isn’t flowing and we’re not being moved to change within, then we become a stagnant water, drying up, lacking fruit. We begin to age and the building begins to fall down and away from us, in need of repair. It can happen to us and it can happen to community. At times, we become an obstacle for others being church.

Jesus addresses that in today’s gospel from John. John wants to send a message loud and clear that there is something different about Jesus. In the other gospels this episode happens near the end of his time but John places it right at the beginning. This is a God that is going to disrupt the natural flow and stagnant water. The sellers and money exchangers become an obstacle to those seeking God, even at their holiest time of year. They prey on the weakness of the people. That’s why Jesus gets angry with them; they too are making the choice who to exclude, and as usual, it is those who truly desire and seek conversion and the living presence of God.

Although this feast doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot to our daily lives, I do think it and the readings today provide us the opportunity to reflect on church and what it means in this day and age and how we can continue to become God’s building, ever-present, ever-changing, a community of conversion. Yes, the building, structure, institution has its place, but it is also more. That is why we come here as a body. Not to exclude or judge or anything else. Yes, it’s important for us to come as our whole, not just what we have deemed holy in our lives, but our darkness and shadow as well because that is where we seek conversion. As the body of Christ, we come not just to receive something; that makes us consumers. We come in order to continue to become what it is that lies before us, here on this table; the body of Christ becoming the Body of Christ, broken, seeking wholeness, seeking conversion, seeking to become God’s building, the living body of Christ in the church and in the Church.

An Authentic Yes

Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Philippians 2: 1-11; Matthew 21: 28-32

As we swing into this section of Matthew’s Gospel we arrive at a scene change. We have now entered Jerusalem and tension begins to mount during Jesus’ final days before his death. The battle lines have already been drawn between Jesus and, well, just about every leader there is, both political and religious. Today we hear the first of five different controversies that are raised and only add to the tension between the camps. The first controversy is where John the Baptist receives the authority to say what he does, and like only Jesus can do, rather than answering the question, tells the unusual and yet obvious story in today’s Gospel.

Needless to say, since it is the first of the controversies, it’s important to remember that it is being told to the opposing “camp” of pharisees, chief priests, and elders of the people and so there is going to be something that trips them up and knock them out of the routine of their lives. It’s also important to know that the second son, the one who answers yes but doesn’t really mean it is the one that culturally would be the one that is accepted. It was best not to dishonor his father like that and so despite knowing that he has no intention on doing what the father has asked, says so anyway; it’s an immediate and expected response.

That’s the hang-up with the passage and the confrontation with the chief priests and elders of the people with Jesus. Most of what they hold others to are simply learned responses. We all have them. From the time we are little kids, we learn ways to protect ourselves from being hurt, from being rejected, from thinking we’re going to hurt others’ feelings, and so this defense of ours keeps us from living in and out of faith; rather we live in fear.

The chief priests, elders of the people, and the pharisees all had these learned responses. Even if they didn’t believe it or understand it, they had everything figured out and all the answers, including a predetermined understanding of God. Everything was viewed through that lens. And so when they now confront Jesus about John the Baptist, it’s a lot easier to understand because they didn’t want to hear what he had to say! They didn’t like it! It challenged them and their thinking. It wasn’t the learned responses that they were used to and what they feel they needed to protect, but rather he spoke and acted out of the divine indwelling. Of course, it ended up costing him his life as well.

We see this all too often in our politics, we see it often in the leadership of our Church, and I thin even was evident in the whole scandal that has hit the NFL the past weeks. All too often, our learned responses are what we think people want to hear or what we want them to hear in order to protect ourselves or the institution. If I speak the truth, I won’t get elected. If I speak the truth, the Church rejects. If I speak the truth, we lose income on football. If we have to work that hard to protect an institution or a symbol, it’s probably living not out of faith and ongoing conversion, but rather out of fear. Yet, we have learned how to get what we want, but as Paul tells us, “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.”

For the Israelites whom Ezekiel speaks, it’s the blame game. Their learned response, and even ours at times, is to blame everyone else for our problems. It’s never because of the choices we make, or when our yes really doesn’t mean yes. They blame God; they blame the Egyptians; they blame, blame, blame everyone else, and yet, Ezekiel tells them today, the learned responses of life and of childhood must die in order to live. It really is a slap in the face when Jesus raises up the tax collectors and prostitutes but it is them who sought a change of mind and heart. It is them that saw the learned responses of life no longer worked and only led them further into sin and away from life and faith. It is only so long before it catches up with us, our emptiness from living this way, when we seek change in our lives.

My friends, it’s not easy. It takes a great deal of courage to let go of those learned responses and our ego and the fear of somehow being rejected; when in reality, we only end up rejecting ourselves in the process. We choose all too often fear over faith. We pray today for the courage to wake up each day and make our yes mean yes no longer to live out of fear but rather faith. It is a lifelong commitment to seeking conversion in our lives. It is a lifelong commitment to saying yes to faith over fear. It is a lifelong commitment to an authentic way of life.

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.