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?

Gratefully Living Without

Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 16-21

Like most of you, I spent part of this Christmas week with my family, which includes all the chaos with kids and such but also reflecting back on Christmas past. At one point some of us commented on how much Christmas has changed since we were kids. As you may know, I’m one of six. We were by no means rich but also not living in poverty, but we certainly learned to live without. As a kid, that seems like torture. You always want what is new, bigger, better, more advanced, and so on. But now, I can look back, as I’m sure many others can, and to see that that is a great lesson to learn in life, learning to live without and not having this constant need to be stimulated with the latest gadget. It’s hard to be grateful when I’m never quite satisfied and certainly only plays into the hand of the consumer culture. We can never have enough and yet, in the end, we only find gratitude without.

There’s a lot that stands in contradiction with the stories we hear throughout this Christmas season, including the continuation of the Christmas gospel we hear on January 1st each year. The shepherds finally find their way to Mary and Joseph and the new born babe to share what has been seen and heard. But there they stand at the center, Mary and Joseph, overwhelmed by what has taken place and the enormity of what has unfolded. But the story is really just beginning for them. If they had to carry with them what we have come to expect on Christmas morning they would never be able to make this journey. They really become refugees and go with nothing but what they have and of course, what is most important, the Christ, who will lead them on the way. As a matter of fact, they would face demise if they carried what we carry and maybe that’s the real point of the story. If we keep it at historical level we miss the point as to how their journey is our journey. It’s a journey of faith and trust and learning to take nothing with us along the way. It only slows us down in the first place and quite frankly, if we need to clutter our lives externally, we most likely are doing it internally as well leaving no space in the crib for the Christ. It will even become the message that Jesus conveys to the disciples of taking nothing with them for the journey while learning to trust and have faith in something and someone much bigger than themselves, in the unseen deep within them.

It is a day that we pray for peace, and of course, that’s first making peace with our own lives but we we also celebrate the Motherhood of Mary who ponders all this within her heart. She doesn’t stand demanding anything of anyone. She already has the space within to try to absorb the mystery that has and is unfolding and to be grateful for the real gift that has been given, of Love Incarnate. For today is also a day to give thanks and to be grateful as we begin a new year. But we too must make that space within our hearts to be grateful rather than trying to accumulate more and more. We too must learn to live without and to find God within what seems like nothingness. The journey Mary and Joseph embark on, and we too, demands us to go to that place of poverty. As refugees they must now flee the terror of Herod and head to Egypt only to eventually make their return at another time with an even deeper sense of trust and faith. They allow the Christ to lead them to the place of exile, to foreign land where they are without, only to find what has always been there and leading them along the way, the Savior that walks and meets them in that very place.

It’s what Paul also speaks of in today’s second reading to the Galatians. He speaks of the fullness of time taking on flesh under the law. Now it’s not just law as we understand it, but rather into the suffering of our lives, that place within us that keeps us bound and weighed down by what we carry. Maybe it’s not the Christmas gifts we may or may not have wanted, or the expectations we had of the holiday that weren’t met, but it could be the grief and pain that we continue to carry with us that makes the journey nearly impossible. Again, Mary and Joseph stand as the iconic figures of the season of making this journey while going without and finding the gift in the midst of it all. We so want to find the Christ in the joy and wonderment of the season, and that’s true, but the Christ is more than that. The Christ meets us where we have allowed our hearts to become exiled. This Christmas invites us to that place of poverty and to give thanks for the gift of living without.

As we continue this Christmas season and begin the new year, we pray for the grace to accept the invitation and walk with Mary and Joseph to our own hearts. Maybe we have to drop things and let things go as move along, but they promise us that what we find, that has always been, will satisfy every longing, where we will no longer be nagged by what seems to be never enough in our lives. Ironically, in the gift of going without, in our own nothingness, we learn the greatest gift, the gift of being grateful not just for what we have but for who and whose we are. Happy New Year!

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.

Holy Family?

1 Sam 1: 20-22, 24-28; Luke 2: 41-52

The first thing that struck me in this gospel, as we all spend time with family and friends this holiday season, is that as Mary and Joseph search for Jesus, they spend most of their time in the midst of the clan, the family, and with friends, and he’s nowhere to be found. Isn’t that often the same for us? You would think the easiest place to find Jesus, God, is in the midst of the people that know us the best, our family and friends? Yet, we know that’s not always true. Sometimes that makes it even harder because they are closest to us and so we’ve been hurt by them, we have expectations that aren’t met, we want them to give us something they’re not capable of, and so it makes it that much harder in seeking God, Jesus, in those relationships. For many the holiday is not easy because of that. We come from broken homes as we call it, with divorce, abuse, family members that don’t speak, grudges, and all the rest that gets entangled with family, making it difficult to find God, no matter how much we search, we can come up empty. It can take a lifetime to begin to untangle the hurt from the love and the gift that encompasses both.

But there’s something else and we hear it through Hannah in today’s first reading from First Samuel, among other stories of babies and children in the Scripture. It seems, as it is with Hannah, as well as others, such as Elizabeth that he heard just a week ago on the last Sunday of Advent, they freely hand their children over to God. It’s amazing, and it often comes through these women who have been barren and have struggled for years, too, questioning where God was in all of it, and then it happens and they want to give back. We must be mindful not to read these accounts historically, otherwise they become linear as life often seems. Rather, we must read them as myth, a truth that is eternal, and so we can glean something from these women and families about what we are called to as family here.

Another perspective, or approach, to these stories is that they see their children as gift and their primary vocation is that of steward of that gift. They know this child is not their own. They don’t possess the child. They cannot control the child. They cannot even determine the destiny of the child. All they can do is give them back to God. We like to think that they’re “our” kids, when in reality, we are the stewards of the gift that God has given, knowing it’s all for such a short time. All we can do is get out of the way and guide them in finding their purpose in this life.  We can see in Jesus, one who has a deeper purpose and vocation, even at the young age of twelve, as he is drawn to the temple in today’s gospel.

Of course, I don’t think I’m the one to tell you how to raise your kids or what’s best for them. I’m in no position to do that. However, I have spent a great deal of time working with teens and so I have some perspective as to where they come from and I can tell you, that, we as adults put a great deal of pressure on them these days to be someone or something, often times who they aren’t. I’d bet none of us would respond the way Mary and Joseph do in today’s gospel after their son had been lost for days! Yet, again, they point us to a greater truth about one another and how we see life and do we see it as gift and we the stewards of this fragile gift that has been entrusted. We’ve become so much about consuming and producing that we’ve lost sight of the gift. It’s about success. It’s about being the best at everything. It’s so often about living through our kids because we were somehow shorted a childhood. It’s about getting into the best schools. And then go produce. Make yourself useful.

Don’t get me wrong. There is some of that that is necessary when we are young and part of our responsibility to care for others and this planet, but not until we’re ready. There must be time to explore and learn as Jesus does, sit at the feet of wisdom figures to absorb what is important in life. Otherwise, we lose sight of the gift we are and lose sight of the gift others are around us and toward us and even in spite of us! Maybe that’s why it is so hard to find God in the place that you would think to be the most obvious. Maybe even Mary and Joseph had to learn a lesson about this child entrusted to them in their quest and their “great anxiety” that they experienced. In the end, as much as we want to control and dictate, it’s just not our place. All we can do is get out of the way, and like Hannah, give them back to God. It helps to create space within us and around us so that we can see all along God has been present, but even that gets distorted in our youth as to what we expect rather than seeing the deeper mystery of the relationships at hand.

As we gather on this feast of the Holy Family, we pray for the same openness that we see in this family and in people like Hannah, among others, who continuously create that space in their lives for a deeper and greater mystery at work, a God who calls us to be His stewards to the gifts that have been entrusted to us, most especially the gift of life. There’s no doubt that a renewal of family is necessary but there’s also a need for healing among God’s people, for a family goes beyond our biological family. We are all gift, a mystery that continues to unfold within us, leading us to our deeper call, a deeper family, to be stewards of the greatest gift offered, the gift of human life, given back in order to become the greater glory of God.

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.

The World We Desire

Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14: 25-33

Is this the world we desire?  It was a reflection question posed at the Church’s Day of Prayer and Penance yesterday and what we continue this weekend in our prayer and pursuit of peace.  Is this the world we desire?  The day was to pray for peace in Syria and throughout the world, but an opportunity to reflect upon our own pursuit in our lives.  We see so much violence but we also hear about national interest and national security but what about the fact that these are human lives that we are talking about?  It’s sometimes easy for us to objectify the violence because we typically view it from a tv screen or through the internet, and it’s only when it impacts us personally can we often feel the weight of this culture of violence and death that has impacted our world from the beginning of time.  Is this the world we desire for our children or our children’s children?  Is it the world we desire for ourselves?  It so often takes a change of mindset and culture in order to pursue peace.

It’s what Paul is trying to convey to Philemon in today’s second reading.  It’s one of the few times we hear from the letter, one of the shortest in the New Testament.  Onesimus, a slave of Philemon has escaped and finds himself with Paul.  In the midst of their relationship Onesimus goes through his own conversion in life.  He has always been a slave.  He’s been the property of Philemon.  It’s all that he knows himself as, someone who is less than human.  He makes the transition from slave to freeman and not even returning to Philemon can take away his new identity in Christ.  But Paul is going to plead to Philemon.  As a slave that has escaped his “owner”, Onesimus risks death by Philemon.  Paul wants to convey to Philemon that he is no longer slave int the same sense.  Onesimus now sees himself as a brother of Paul and Paul wants to help Philemon see the same.  Once there is this change of identity and change of mindset for them, a new relationship is established and it becomes increasingly less possible of objectifying and treating as less than another.  Paul wants him to understand this relationship and pleads for Philemon to see Onesimus as a brother, to the point of Paul saying he is sending his own heart back to Philemon.  This is the world that Paul desires, where others are seen as brothers and sisters.

The change of mindset is also what Jesus tries to send to the disciples and the crowd that follows.  It seems at face value to be a rather harsh message, but he doesn’t tell us to hate anyone.  What Jesus wants to break down is the familial relationship and to expand it beyond the biological family.  Your brothers and sisters, mother and father, are more than the biological, they are the relationships we share as a human family.  Your brothers and sisters are anyone that you encounter.  They aren’t just people out there, keeping them at a distance, they are right here and within us.

Yes, we pray for peace this weekend in Middle East and beyond and we could pray for that peace every week, but we first must pray for that peace within ourselves and in our own hearts.  We all participate in the culture of death and violence when we remain enslaved to our own sinfulness.  It’s easy to objectify it on the screen or in other parts of our own community, but it is in us as well!  If we don’t seek conversion as Onesimus does in his life, we too only see ourselves as slave.  Through this conversion Onesimus’ eyes are opened and he begins to see in a new way.  He no longer sees himself as slave, he no longer sees Philemon as “owner”, but rather makes that shift to brother of Paul.  It’s the same conversion we are called to in our lives, to pursue the culture of life and love that our faith promotes.  What is the world we desire?  None of us wants to admit that we participate in the culture of death and violence, that’s only over there, in Syria.  The reality is, it’s in us as well when we hold onto our hatred and bigotry, when we act violently and see others as less than, or when we objectify others, but we are more than that as well.  We must choose life and love in order to break the cycle of violence and death, not only in other parts of the world, but in our own lives as well.  Peace will come, but first by finding in me and finding it in you.  With that, we become agents of change, agents of peace love and life to all our brothers and sisters in the human family.