Humble Service

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; ICor 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

One thing that Pope Francis reminds us of all the time is our gospel mandate to serve the poor. He says we are a “Church that is poor for the poor.” Certainly there is a superficial element to it when it comes to material goods and the greed, as he often says that accompanies it in the Western World, but there’s also a deeper meaning to it and a deeper longing that it often comes from deep within us, a place of poverty that yearns for us to be. Our avoidance of it so often in our lives leads us to where we do find ourselves in the world with countries like our own about accumulating while others lack beyond our imagination. It says something about our own poverty and what it is we are being invited into on this three day retreat and how we use the symbols that are a part of these days to lead us there.

On this first night, we hear a familiar gospel from John of the washing of the disciples feet as he too leads them to a place of poverty within themselves in what appears to be a rather uncomfortable position for them. The first symbol we encounter in the passage is Jesus disrobing. For the disciples of that time, something like that would have been scandalous, accompanied by the fact that the leader of this movement will then go on to wash their feet; unheard of. But as this liturgy goes on this evening we will do the same thing to this altar. Before we leave we will leave this space in a rather unusual place. None of us would do it if we were expecting guests in our own homes; we’d want it to look the best and for everyone to see what we’re about. We move away from that place of poverty within ourselves and put on a show. But the service that Jesus mandates this evening is quite the opposite. Disrobing, the stripping of the altar, the bending down, the place of humility calls the disciples and us to a different kind of service.

We are often much more comfortable with the service that we can do indirectly. There’s no harm in it all, but a Church that is poor and for the poor demands something different from each of us, to go out and within to where we are most uncomfortable, most vulnerable, and allow ourselves to be exposed as Jesus does and as we will do to this space as the evening wears on and in turn allow ourselves to be changed. John’s Gospel is predominantly about conversion of heart and it’s done by being led to those vulnerable places in our lives, humbling us, bending down, disrobing, allowing ourselves to be exposed, not to change the other but to allow our own hearts to be changed. We heard that in the weeks leading up to this point with the Woman at the Well, The Blind Man, and the Raising of Lazarus.

It was a concern for Paul as well as we are invited into Corinth today. Paul was aware even at this point that the poor were being separated from the community celebration of breaking bread. The community began to become elitist and separating itself from anyone that it deemed worthy to participate. If they were allowed it was at a different time than everyone else. In many ways, to eat the scraps left over. There was a disconnect in the mandate of the gospel to serve. Although John doesn’t come out of this community, he does originate from one of Paul’s communities and in many ways takes it all a step further. Paul lays the groundwork for this theological basis for what’s going on and then John puts skin to it and makes it real, bringing it down to earth and what it means to serve on a deeper level. It is obvious that Paul and John knew and had allowed themselves to be taken to that place of poverty within themselves and their lives are changed for ever, while remaining connected to their larger story of faith.

That’s what we hear in the first reading today from Exodus and the Passover celebration. Our Jewish brothers and sisters just a few days ago told this very story around their tables. They tell the story not to take them backwards to that place, but rather as a reminder of their story and their own journey, as a people and community, to that place of great struggle and poverty in their lives. They mustn’t ever forget who they are and where they had come from and so the telling of the story and the participation in the great symbols of the faith lead them to a place of change in their own hearts.

These days are filled with many symbols as our the readings we are invited to enter into this day. Some would say that John’s story of the washing of the disciples feet was one used in early baptisms, connecting what it was all about and the service that was being demanded of them. It throws everything off kilter from the other gospels because it’s out of order, happening not during the Passover, that somehow this Christ was breaking through even at this very moment, from the depths of their being, that place of poverty within.

The challenge for us to allow all the symbols to speak to us and to lead us to that place of conversion in our lives. It may be the bending down, the washing of feet, the humbling movement, the stripping of the altar, disrobing as Jesus does. Which of the symbols makes us most uncomfortable? That’s so often the place that God is trying to break through in our lives. This isn’t just about Holy Thursday and all we have made it out to be over the years. Rather, for John, it’s already about Easter. Lent has ended and we enter into the great feast. John is going to ask how we make resurrection a part of our lives in this moment, and this evening it comes in the form of humbling service from that place of poverty within. We are a Church that is poor for the poor, but maybe in ways we don’t always expect. Allow the symbols to speak and to change what it is we hold onto in our lives, now being washed away in the humble giving of Jesus, and as Peter eventually teaches us today, through our humble reception of that giving. That’s the point of change, the point of conversion in our lives.

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Richly Poor

Luke 16: 19-31

The one side-effect or even shadow side of our addiction to the capitalistic culture which consumes us on all levels and aspects of our lives, is that it’s opened the door for us to demonize the poor. It becomes easy to blame them for their own problems and somehow believe that they are envious of others and simply want to be rich. It’s the crazy stuff that we tell ourselves and what our culture tells us. Yet, all it does is, in the words of Jesus today, is create this chasm that seems to grow wider and wider. Really, though, the more we separate ourselves from the poor we separate ourselves from the interior poverty of our soul that always seems to long for the fill of the pod. The external reality of separation of rich and poor is a reflection of the chasm that often exists within our own lives and souls, when we demonize that part of us and try to fill it with something other than God.

But here’s the thing. There is that longing for more in our lives that makes us all the same, whether rich or poor or anyone in between. It’s how we fill that desire for more that often determines the quality of our lives, which brings us to this Gospel today. It should be hard for us to hear today as it was for the Pharisees to whom Jesus is addressing it. Last week we heard the story of the steward and today the rich man and Lazarus, but in between the two are a few verses that describes the reaction of the Pharisees. Luke tells us that they love money and that they are growing weary of this Jesus and the threat that he seems to be bringing to their lives and this perceived power, especially through their love of money as Luke tells us.

So this is where Jesus picks up and begins to turn things on their head. Keep in mind that this is the continuation of the mercy parables of Luke’s gospel so it is first and foremost about who God really is. It’s also important to remember, that like many people today, there was this belief that somehow the more riches and stuff I had the more I was in favor with God. We even use that language about our wealth and belongings! If we believe that, we miss the point and are off mark on God. So the reversals begin at the start of the story. The one who would have been known by name because of his status and wealth becomes nameless and yet the one who is poor and has nothing, living out of his poverty, becomes named, Lazarus. Right from the beginning the pharisees would start to squirm.

But then there’s also the reversal of fortune. The pharisee thinks, thinks, that he is “living in heaven” because of his wealth, not only because of his status but because of his accumulation of wealth. But in the end, it’s him that his tormented. The more he separates himself from the man sitting outside his door, the more he tries to fill his pocket with wealth. His own deep longing is being separated from his life and the external world, and so as much as he thinks he’s “living in heaven” it’s really an experience of hell. He’s not living from the place of poverty but from his place of wealth. Jesus isn’t trying to scold him in some way. Rather, he’s inviting him to recognize his own poverty and to live from that place which can never be filled by what we consume but only by allowing ourselves to be consumed by God. It’s the novel of the story and to begin to recognize that Lazarus is me and Lazarus is you.

If we find ourselves demonizing in some way the poor and blaming them for our problems, well, the reality is, it says more about me than it does them and the chasm only grows wider and deeper in our lives. The story is not meant to spook us or even distress us, unless we have become blinded by our own wealth and stuff that we have accumulated. All that does is leave us with a false sense of security and something we can hold onto. Jesus, today, is inviting us to allow these realties to reflect one another, that by the way we treat others, in particular the poor, we are moving to a place where we can be more in touch with our own poverty and to begin to live our lives from the place.
There is nothing that is ever going to fill that longing and that desire for more in our lives. Yet, the entire capitalistic culture is rooted int that very reality so I can tell myself that I can’t live without something. It’s rooted in our weakness into fearing that place of poverty within ourselves, the Lazarus within ourselves, and the more I separate myself from the longing in my soul, the more I feel like I need something to fill it. It’s never going to be filled by something. We can consume all we want and the chasm grows. What we’re called to do is as it is with the Pharisees, to accept that that’s who we are, that there is this longing and desire for more within me. Rather than consuming ourselves allow ourselves to be consumed, not by the culture, but by the One who creates the longing, the God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The more we do, the more we no longer need to feed the rich man but rather accept that Lazarus is me and Lazarus is you, and then, and only then, will our lives be rich and fulfilled.

Make America Great Again?

Please note…just because I’m using Make America Great Again as the title of this blog, it in no way means I support the candidacy of Donald Trump. This is a spiritual reflection on why I think that slogan works and a deeper meaning behind such a statement. This is simply one perspective on a much more complex issue.

It is said that there is a beginning to everything. Certainly there is a beginning to our lives, a beginning to a relationship and marriage, even a beginning to an end. Something that I have reflected upon greatly these past years is the beginning of that end for the United States, happening on a fateful day back in 2001, September 11th. Any of us alive can remember where we were and what we were doing. I can still remember the silence that night as I walked on the grounds of the seminary, very few cars and no planes flying overhead. There was something distinctly haunting about the whole experience.

If we study the development of human beings, there is nothing that takes a toll more than trauma, to the body and the psyche. We have certainly seen that as part of the cost of war, the ongoing violence in our cities, and terror that is thrown upon us with no warning. Think about the amount of disbelief we had when those planes struck. I can still visualize them slamming into the World Trade Center and the ash heap next to the Pentagon. It was said even then, terror struck at the heart of this country. Of course we now know the other plane was also enroute to similar locations but cut short by courage. Just think about it, the heart of who we are, the epicenter of both the military and finances both struck, and yet we describe that as our heart. Is it really the heart of who we are as people, as country, or better yet, should it be? They’re questions for all of us to reflect upon.

But something happened that day. When trauma hits an individual, as I said, it does something to the psyche and the body. It wants to shut down and the mind wants to keep reliving it, over and over again, an ongoing nightmare. In the span of literally minutes, any illusion we tried to cast upon the world about who we are had been shattered. We were the country that couldn’t be hit, invincible. We were the youngest on the playground, still filled with such innocence. Yet, in those very moments, it all came crashing down and the illusion we portrayed showed its dark side. For a period of time we sat in disbelief but then it became time to react, and we did. We would do anything to try to recreate the illusion of something that was never real in the first place but a persona we felt we needed to portray and one that protected us from any outside harm.

Since then, it has seemed like a patchwork, trying every which way to recreate the illusion rather than collectively allowing ourselves to stop and fall into the question of identity that it opened up for us. We’ve managed to continue to fight wars now for longer than we could have imagined. We’ve also allowed ourselves to be duped into believing we needed to somehow shore up the banks a few years back, for fear of a total collapse. If we can learn anything from our history and certainly of the great empires that have existed over the centuries, is that they all eventually fall. An illusion of greatness and strength, built on realities that will not last, such as war and greed will undoubtably fall, and as usual, just as our faith has tried to teach us, those on the bottom are the ones who are most impacted, the normal everyday folk who work to make ends meet from week to week, scraping pennies together, sending their kids off to war, and for what? To try to defend an illusion that for all intensive purposes, crumbled before our very eyes on that beautiful day in September. Everything we thought we were was no more and all we can do is seek out a new way, a new greatness, one with greater depth, a truer identity and a heart that had gotten lost by divisiveness, darkness, despair, war, and greed, among other things.

In walks Donald Trump and this campaign to make America great again. How can anyone argue against that? But the question we never seem to follow up with is, but what made us great to begin with? Was it winning as he suggests or better yet, strength that we can somehow destroy every enemy out there, a restoration of authority to the rest of the world that we’re back. But is it once again, merely an illusion of what once was. Growing up I think about what made America great. Now growing up in small town Pennsylvania seemed rather vanilla. But I learned of this sense of the melting pot that first established this country. Give me your tired and your poor, yearning to be free. Somehow there was a sense of unity despite and in relation to our diversity. That’s what made us great and different from the rest, our greatest strength.

Times have changed and sure there are still people I meet that want their kids to have it better than them; that too has been part of our greatness. However, I’ve also met a lot more younger people, the next generation, that has a respect for the other and a willingness to seek out the common good for all people, but in particular, the poor. The greatness and strength of a country is often grounded in how it treats the poor. But in the process of trying to rebuild the illusion of what was, we’ve had to play the victim game and with the victim game comes the blame game. We fight and we divide, but all of it comes down to that very question of what makes us great in the first place, and for that matter, what will once again make us great.

There is a struggle for the soul of this country, if we can move beyond the superficialities and our politics that has often taken the place of our moral compass. The illusion wants and lives off of us fighting and reaching for something that could never be attainable and will never fulfill and decide how we go forward. If making us great again is built on more war and the endless pursuit of defeating enemies, greed and the stockpiling of money, then we will once again find ourselves casting an image of a country that just isn’t anymore, and for that matter, never was. If we look at it in terms of development, the United States has reached a critical time. Not in the sense that politicians like to portray it, as an impending apocalypse, but rather as a time to grow up and become no longer the kid on the playground, often bullying others around, but rather a responsible adult who finds strength through its people and the very heart and soul that can give us the true strength, direction, and life we desire. That’s how America can be great.

The election gives us all pause to reflect upon what we want, yet, distracted by smoke and mirrors and clashes of personality that in the end helps no one, certainly not this country nor the world. It’s time for us to grieve what was lost and that’s ok. That’s what adults do. We weep for what was, knowing in faith, that it’s the only way for a new direction to be revealed. I have never lost hope in the country, despite what has unfolded the past years, because I believe with all my heart that this is where we are. And you know what, I’ve been there and so have many others. What I thought made me great as a child no longer seems to fit and no longer works. Scripture tells us through Paul, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” He goes onto say that giving up chilling things challenges me to think about what I value. As a country, it’s time for us to ask the tough questions and not be so glib and quick to react, but rather to reflect on what we really want and desire as a nation. That can only happen when we allow it all to fall away, all that will pass, and seek what lies at the heart of who we are and what we are. Our history has not always been great because we sought greatness through an illusion all too often. At this moment in history, we the people, in order to form a more perfect union, must seek the greater good, the greater strength, that can only come from deep within our very being. Yeah, it is time to make America great again, but it’s time to root it in reality and a strength that comes from our ability to love, not an illusion nor war nor money, but the people that make it up from wherever they have come, seeking a better life, a great life, that only this country can offer.

The Voice of the Shepherd

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Matthew 25:31-46

If you sit here thinking that you’re all and only sheep, well, I have some bad news. You aren’t! If you sit here thinking you’re all and only goat, well, I have some good news. For you too, you aren’t! Maybe the most challenging are those who may be sitting here today who think they’re all sheep and judge those who you have deemed goat, well, I’d suggest you make some changes quickly, because whether you know it or not, you’re probably more goat than sheep!

We culminate this liturgical year on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, in Matthew’s Gospel with probably one of the most familiar of passages and later depicted in one of the most prominent scenes in the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s, Last Judgment. Yet, possibly one of the worst things we can do to ourselves is fear what this passage provides, mindful that the Gospel is always good news. That’s not to say that things don’t need to change or conversion isn’t a necessity in our lives, but did Jesus truly mean to scare the life out of people with such stories? If anything, I myself find some comfort in it that he can separate and still call to wholeness at the same time and in my very life. The moment we can accept that we are sheep and goat it frees us up to accept ourselves and how to truly live God’s will one must recognize and accept over and over again that it is God that works through and within me to accomplish His will.

I find comfort in the first reading from Ezekiel today in the all familiar passage of our Lord as Shepherd, as one who gathers what has been scattered. When we allow that aggressive and impulsive goat within us to take control of our lives, we often find ourselves dissatisfied, anxious, and worried about many different things, often most of which we have no control over. Yet, that part of us that stands as metaphor in the goat wants to tell us that we’re in control, that we know better, that we can go our own way and no one can tell us otherwise. But what Jesus tells us is that the goat doesn’t hear quite well. The goat doesn’t recognize the whisper of the shepherd, trying to lead and gather and make one, in the midst of an often disconnected and disengaged world, distraught over what is seen and nowhere near trusting what is unseen, certainly the quiet voice of the shepherd. No, that voice that the goat follows isn’t that of the shepherd, but his own or one that has followed him throughout his life, often taking the place of God but barely living up to a god. Yet, when we have found comfort and security in that voice, it’s hard to surrender and give up.

I find comfort in knowing that I don’t have to be the judge of sheep and goat, for to God I am but one. Yet, God gives us tools and methods to help us to discern these voices that often control our lives and prevent us from growing more deeper in relationship with the shepherd and myself. They are voices that, from childhood, have been that place of security, but we as sheep and goats, are called to trust a greater voice, one that leads us to places beyond imagination, that leads us to places that are unknown, to places where sheep and goats, like lions and lambs, can come together as one, reconciled and whole.

Yes, we aspire for that oneness in the life to come, but a continuous laying down our lives for others, for the homeless, the tired, the poor, the imprisoned, the sheep that cause us discomfort and to question God and humanity, yes, there, at that point, God invites us to not see the other as goat, as we so often do, someone lesser than myself or simply trying to take advantage of the system. No, to see the Other and the other as Shepherd and sheep in mutual relationship. The more we cast judgment of the other as goat and to see them, somehow, as not worthy of my time or resources, the more we are trusting the voice of the ego, the goat, the one that leads astray. As we end this year and prepare for the season upon us, Advent, we pray that we may discern and trust the voice of the Good Shepherd, leading us to oneness, to reconcile, to wholeness, to a people who are free of judgment and prepared to see as God sees in his sheep and maybe most importantly, to love as God loves His sheep.

Unbound For Our Greatest Gift

1 Thes 5: 1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30

Today’s gospel poses many challenges in the world that we live today, culturally and economically. If we simply read it at face value, it gives the illusion that Jesus is a raging capitalist, where the rich get richer and poor get poorer, without any moral compass pointing the way. Unfortunately, you will hear some preachers that support that reading of the gospel, but they’d be wrong and is not the intention of this gospel. Another challenge is that we’ve heard this gospel many times in our lives, and again, we gloss over it and limit what’s going on to the fact that God has given us talents and we are to use them. Albeit that it may be a valid point, I think it glosses over what goes on underneath the words of this gospel, which is why it’s important that we read it in its entirety rather than a shorter version.

As we hear it play out, there should be something about this third servant that we hear of that shakes us a bit and the servants relationship to the master, especially when we automatically assume that the master is God and Jesus. First and foremost, we must try to put the talents aside and convince ourselves that it’s not about money. As a matter of fact, if we keep returning to that point, it only proves how much control money does have over us. But this servant, the third of them, seems to have a different relationship with the master than the other two. They seem to listen and go and do exactly what he says and tells them to do, but something is different with the third.

It gives the appearance, in terms of relationship, that there is a level of mistrust. He has all these preconceived notions about who the master is. He thinks he’s hard. He thinks he’s cruel and to be feared. He thinks he’s stealing and getting his riches from less than stellar avenues. He thinks he is a demanding person. So all of these perceptions are preventing him from trusting the master, the master’s command, and the master’s voice, and so does what he only knows how to do when he doesn’t trust, he buries.

Now if it’s not about money, there is something of greater value that is being buried by the third servant. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have been there. The greatest gift, of the greatest value, that we bury is the will of God, the voice of God, the divine indwelling, gets squashed. The voice of the master isn’t to be trusted because we have convinced ourselves and others have told us not to trust. Think how often the scribes and pharisees would have led others to believe that. It was only their voice that should be trusted, not the voice of God within. It’s what leads Jesus to the cross and ourselves at times as well.

Now I’ve been there. I sympathize and empathize with him, and so I’ve had to wrestle with the reading this week myself. Somehow this servant, and the third servant within all of us, whom we have learned to trust more than the voice of God, but slowly be let go of; a letting go of fear. Fear has such a tremendous hold on us in our lives and it keeps us from hearing the divine indwelling and prevents us from living the will of God in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re often ok with that. As Paul tells the Thessalonians today that we like comfort, we like just skating along in life, we like security and so on, because then we never have to change and seek conversion. When we allow fear to take hold of us, it’s as if we know something is missing in our lives, and yet, we feel paralyzed by it at the same time. I sympathize and empathize with this guy because I have been there. Yet, when the treasure is found, the talent of great value, the voice of God, there’s no turning back.

The other two servants are held up as the example to the other and to us because it’s what happens when we learn to trust and let go of these preconceived notions of who and what the master really is to us. They learn to take risk and whether we like it or not, faith is a huge risk; living God’s will is a huge risk because we are often led to places where we’d rather not go and so instead, all too often, we hunker down and bury it, the greatest gift of all. To be disciples, we must trust the master’s voice. We must be willing to take the risk in stepping out there, making mistakes along the way, knowing God’s there to pick and pull us up; but we did it and that voice will grow and the kingdom of God will grow within and around us.

My friends, this Gospel does pose great challenges to us, but not for what we might believe on the surface. It challenges us in our relationship to the master and our willingness to admit that at times I too choose fear over the voice of God trying to lead me elsewhere. I too choose to bury rather than trust and allow the experience to grow in faith. This gospel is an invitation to sit with it and allow ourselves to be and to be with this third servant and ask ourselves where are relationship with the master is these days. When we can finally admit it, then we can begin to break down the walls that separate and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Then we can learn to trust all over again and grow in faith rather than fear. Then we can allow the Kingdom of God to not only grow within us, but through our parish, this community, and ultimately, this world.

A Greater Vineyard Envisioned

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Matthew 21: 33-43

So how about those Orioles? They’re looking pretty good these days. I remember when I had moved here back in 1999 and they were on that, well, you know, little slide of losing seasons and it seemed as if it would never turn around. Heck, I remember just a few years ago they were practically giving seats away at $1 and they still couldn’t sell them! After so many years, it seemed as if we had to just settle that this is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. We could complain, because we like to do that, but settle we had to do because that’s just the way it is. Then they hire a manager that wasn’t about to settle. There was something greater to strive for than losing season after season, and now, that seems all but forgotten when new life and winning seasons have become the way. There has been no more settling for less with this team even if we may continue to in our lives and world.

It seems all too often that we are willing to settle for less, often because that’s just the way it is. I wonder what it will take to turn things around. For most of us, it takes a jolt out of the way we’ve always done it and no longer settle for less. Quite frankly, we settle for malaise, for mediocrity, and death; yet, when jolted, we don’t know what to do. It takes death, sickness, cancer, loss of jobs, a test of our mortality before we often turn that corner in life.

We have to believe that Isaiah knows what’s to come. Both him and Jesus use the same story of the landowner and the vineyard. Everything is going along just fine for people Israel. Isaiah tells this beautiful story as it unfolds, but the whole time he’s building a case against their own settledness. Despite all the care, the nurturing, the protection that has been given to this vineyard, it’s still produces something otherwise. We, as a people, become stuck in just coasting by and thinking everything is fine. He goes onto say, “he looked for judgment and sees bloodshed; justice but hark, the outcry.” As many go about their business settling for what is rather than seeking a greater vineyard, the poor, the oppressed, those that are perceived on the bottom only suffer greater. There is bloodshed and outcry for the poor, and yet, often falls on deaf ears. We’re content with the status quo rather than stepping into the unknown. We’re content and satisfied with the settling for something less, as long as it doesn’t impact my life all must be well.

Jesus takes it a step further as he again speaks to the elders of the people and chief priests as he did last week. He speaks of all those coming on behalf of the landowner only to be killed. They don’t want change. Again, as long as it doesn’t impact their lives and change things on their status quo, the get bigger and bigger and the oppressed get pushed further down. The landowner takes drastic means in sending his son, of course, Jesus. We could ask, “Why would he do that? After all he has seen done to the others, why would he risk the life of his son and His Son?” But haven’t we as well? How many of our sons and daughters, how many of our brothers and sisters have been put in the same situation and have lost their lives just so things don’t have to change? When is enough, enough?!? When are we going to confront the real problems of our community and world and I’m sure even our parish that will push us to change and to become the vineyard that God demands of us? We settle for bloodshed. We settle for outcry. We settle for the poor being poor and the oppressed being oppressed. Yet, in the end, so are we if we allow it.

God wants more out of us. God demands more out of us. We don’t have to sit through years of losing seasons of life. We don’t have to wait until it somehow impacts me personally before I take action in recognizing the wild grapes and the weeds that have accumulated. We don’t have to settle for less because God didn’t settle for less in sending his Son into the vineyard to show us a different way. God wants to do it for and to us today, jar us out of our own malaise and often apathetic ways towards politics, towards this city, and often in our own lives. It’s not, “just the way it is” because of anyone else but ourselves. We become stuck, which is our own sin, that God wants to free us from today. To prune us and trim the weeds, and awaken us from our deep sleep that we become comfortable with in order to become that great vineyard that Isaiah and Jesus speak of in caring for our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters because that’s all of us and God wants the best vineyard for each of us, in our hearts, in our community, and in our world. Yes, it demands change, but that’s life. Yes, it demands a leap from the known to the unknown and a leap into trust, but we are guaranteed, by faith, that new life will flourish as we take these babysteps into the great vineyard of our Lord.

Simplifying Life

The thought of packing is probably one of the most challenging parts of moving. It’s amazing how much you can accumulate over time, and often without even knowing it! An even greater challenge is that I am moving from a house to a suite in a rectory, which means considerable downsizing must take place before I move.

A short time ago, as I began this process, I had this thought while driving. “If I were to die today, what of this “stuff” would most matter?” In that very moment, I felt free to rid myself of stuff that I thought had some significance for me. All that stuff I put on the “maybe” pile moved to the recycling or garbage pile, simply because of that benchmark that came to me while driving.

Through the experience of participating in many international service trips to places such as Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras, there has always been something within me that has pushed me to a simpler life. Yet, as a part of the culture and society we live it, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking I “need” different things. Somehow the right book would have the right answer that I was looking for in life. Out there was the right article of clothing that I just had to have, including an obsession with Life is Good gear which fills much of my drawers!

But in these moments of transition, it becomes yet another invitation to discern what is most needed, what would matter if I were to die today. As I sit here looking around my office typing this, I think, not much of it. So much of it I don’t even realize is even there most of the time. Maybe it meant something at some point and there was some sentimental value to holding onto different things, but there remains that nagging feeling to simplify life. Do I really need all this stuff? What would matter if I died today? Quite honestly, not much of it, if I were honest with myself.

I think of that passage when Jesus sends out the disciples taking nothing with them. It was an invitation to trust that somehow God would provide and also give the opportunity to be in solidarity with so many that they meet along the way, the poor, crippled, lame, and the other characters we encounter in scripture and in life who are not there for us to change, but rather to somehow change us and soften us and form us in a way that we evangelize not simply by our words, but more so by the way we live our lives.

At this moment of change, downsizing, and most importantly, simplifying, another door opens into trusting what Mystery has in store next; nothing is coincidental but rather providential and preparation for what is to unfold in the days, weeks, and years to come. For so long the thought of getting rid of some of this “stuff” seemed somewhat impossible, because each has meant something at one time or another, and yet that nagging invitation is to let it go and trust that more doors and windows will open with God providing all that is needed in living more simply.