The Capacity for God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

It Begins With Me

2 Thes 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19

By now I suppose most have had enough of politics. I’ve stayed out of it as much as I can because I believe as a preacher that it’s not my place to tell people how to vote and to take away their freedom to choose. But it’s over now and we now move towards a new reality, not only with a president but with a mayor of this city. I spent some time reflecting and blogging this week, even down to the point of how hard it was up to the point where I was filling in that oval square as to how I would vote. But I also reflected upon who are the losers in all of this. You know, I think the greatest losers in all of this are the two political parties with religious institutions a close third. It gets more and more obvious as to how politics influences religion much more than the other way around. We can tell simply by our reaction to it and we ask ourselves where it is we place our faith.

I thought of the losers coupled up against this gospel we hear today. If you ask me, the major parties as they stand have to lose. They have lost touch with people and in particular people who are truly suffering for a variety of reasons. Jesus makes the point at the beginning of the gospel today about the people that have become distracted by “costly stones and votive offerings”. It’s like the shiny object over here that distracts us from the real issues going on in people’s lives. It’s this facade that both of these parties have projected outwards that distract us and even worse yet, we begin to think that they are identity. I am red or I am blue. But you know what, it simply becomes another way for us to judge and distract. We not only judge by skin color, by sexuality, by religion, we can now judge by the color of our vote and because one votes one way I am somehow better than. We can keep going down this road, but the parties are going to destroy us as they continue to divide and even manipulate in a way that benefits them. Yet, all along, there’s war, famine, poverty, destruction, and great suffering going on over here being ignored.

We cannot keep dividing ourselves in these ways that continues to separate. Even the way we look at poverty. Sure there is great poverty in this city of Baltimore alone, but we even make judgements about that. We think somehow our poverty is greater than the poverty in rural America and we cast judgments upon them. You don’t need to drive very far to see it all around us. So yes, our politics has influenced our religion much more than the other way around because we’re called to something more and we hear that from Paul this morning in our second reading. He understands quite well in these communities how there can be divisions. He would understand our reds and blues. But Paul makes a point to lead people to their deeper identity, that there is something more than the color of my vote, there is the very fact that we are to model Christ, and Christ crucified at that. That is who we really are despite what these parties want to tell us. They want to convince that we are these parties and our lives depend on it. You know what, Christ crucified. That’s who we are and no one can tell us otherwise.

Of course, people even ask what Pope Francis has to say. He says he’ll certainly pray for the president but he says what matters most is what’s happening with the poor, the migrant, the immigrant, and the list goes on. We must continue to work for peace and justice but not because red or blue tells us to but rather because our faith demands it of us. However, in order to do that we must begin with ourselves. If we want peace we must first find it within ourselves. If we want to work for justice, we must first work to identity the injustice of our own lives, that’s me and you. I have judgements, I have stereotypes, I have all this going on in myself and I get easily distracted by the shiny object just as much as the rest, but this is a time to come back to center and come back to our truest identity. We cannot become what it is we hate. We cannot continue to blame others for the problems of the world. We must first begin with us, with me and with you. I must recognize my own injustice and my participation in the injustice of the world before I can begin to bring about justice in the world. We are more than all of it. If we want to be love and forgiveness and mercy, we must reconnect with our deepest identity in Christ and detach ourselves from our attachment to red and blue. It will destroy us because it’s not even real and we know deep down that we are more than it all.

This is a time of reflection for all of us, individually and collectively, to ask ourselves where we have become distracted and attached ourselves to something other than we really are and move towards oneness. We have to stop believing that we are this facade when we know deep down we are something much more. As Jesus says, it will all pass anyway. There’s no point holding onto it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It never is to let go of something we believe to be our identity. He speaks about how it does turn family and against family and against friend. But we must keep our eye on all who are suffering, including those beyond the bubbles we live in. We must keep our eye on the poor, the suffering, the fearful, the hurting, all suffering from famine. We don’t like to keep our eyes there and would prefer to be distracted, but that’s where we find our truest selves in Christ crucified and it is Christ that we are called to model to the world. We work for peace and we work for justice, but let it first begin with me.

Shattered Illusions

1Kgs 19: 16, 19-21; Gal 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62

I think it’s safe to say that none of us have and probably will never have an experience of being homeless. It’s just not our reality. However, we know we don’t have to go far to experience it and see it, and before you know it, when we find ourselves there that sense of uncomfortableness is right there with us, especially when someone is sticking a sign in our face. But that has nothing to do with them. It’s me and you that feel uncomfortable, and maybe deep down that’s because we know it can be us and is us, in some ways.

We must be mindful when we hear this gospel today that Jesus and the would-be-disciples are those very people. They are always transient and on the go with “nowhere to rest” their heads. This call to discipleship and a commitment to the Lord is one that is to lead us beyond what makes us comfortable, secure, and safe. As a matter of fact, they are all but illusions anyway and stand in our way of growing deeper in our faith and in our commitment to the Lord. He seems rather terse in his language today, with no time for compassion for anyone, but right to the point. There’s not even a regard for going to bury the dead. Let the dead bury the dead he says to the would-be’s. For Jesus it’s about the breaking in of the Kingdom, living it, and preaching it with our lives! It seems as if it has nothing to do with what we make of life of comfort, safety, and security. As a matter of fact, he seems to lead them to just the opposite.

Him and the would-be-disciples are on their way up to Jerusalem but not without a stop in Samaria. Now, you don’t need a scripture degree to know that this is going to cause a problem for them. We all know that they don’t like the Samaritans and the Samaritans don’t like them, yet, Jesus seems to lead them to this place of conflict, to this place of uncomfortableness. Again, mindful, they are traveling with nothing so all the comforts have been taken away. They have no way to defend themselves against the Samaritans. But what’s their first reaction, James and John want to send down fire upon them. Jesus will immediately rebuke the use of violence against them, but rather move to and meet them in their uncomfortableness, the Samaritan within themselves. Violence only begets more violence. He moves them to this place of freedom within themselves.

It’s that freedom that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Galatians. It’s not freedom in what we speak about when it comes to religion and speech or bearing arms, for Paul it was something interior. That idea that Pope Francis speaks of that we need to be a poor Church is the freedom that Paul speaks of, that it goes beyond financial but rather to an interior poverty that frees us from the illusions that we create of comfort, safety, and security. He tries to lead them to that place of poverty, that homelessness within themselves rather that becoming trapped by the illusions of the flesh as he says it. Even that we have had a tendency to limit to the body and sex, but for Paul, it was the illusions we create rather than being led by the Spirit, from that place of poverty within.

And so maybe the story of Elijah and Elisha says it best. Once Elisha accepts this call to be the prophet raised up by the Lord, he goes and burns everything. Everything! All that he has and owns he knows is going to only get in the way and weigh him down from trusting that deeper place within himself. Like us, the would-be-disciples, Elisha understands the trappings of life aren’t even necessarily the material goods we hang onto, but the illusions that the create for us, that feeling of being comfortable, of being secure, and of being safe. It’s all an illusion and it’s what Paul warns against to the Galatians and it’s what Jesus warns against in the gospel to the would-be-disciples. It seems as if they had no other choice but to give it all away, to walk into the uncomfortableness of not having, and finding a fuller life through it.

As the would-be-disciples, we’re called to do the same. Again, it’s not always about the actual material goods in our lives, but rather the illusion that they give us that isn’t even real to begin with; rather, they make us feel secure, comfortable, and safe until we find ourselves encountering the one who has not, not only the homeless one but our Lord. Quite possibly the only way to experience the Lord and accept that call of the would-be-disciples is to be led as he does in the gospels today, to what is unknown or to what we think we know and have the illusions shatter. When we do, we begin to see what we’re truly missing in life and that’s life itself. It’s no longer about feeling uncomfortable when we face that homeless person but rather, knowing that, deep down, that person is me and all I have and could put my trust in is the Lord who calls, ultimately, to life itself.

The Struggle for Soul

Daniel 12: 1-3; Mark 13: 24-32

It’s hard not to hear these readings today through the lens of so much violence that seems to be the norm in the world. It’s a complicated world and a complicated time to live. After the attacks in Paris the president of France said the response would be something like ruthless and merciless. Even Pope Francis used strong language saying we are living in a piecemeal third world war. On top of that, we hear these readings about darkness and destruction and so on that it’s hard not to think that the world is nearing the end. It is, in some ways what ISIS wants in the great battle with the West, this great battle between good and evil that remains timeless, and one this is really a wrestling for the soul. It can be the soul of Islam. The soul of the West. The soul of religion. The soul of this city which has seen now over 300 murders, whatever the case. It’s a battle all too familiar.

I’m not naive to know that these are complicated issues that face the world. At the same time, deep down, my deepest me tells me that it is wrong but it doesn’t stop me from wrestling with that reality and to know war and evil is real and if it’s going to hide itself anywhere, it’s going to do so in what is perceived as the place of virtue, in religion. Violence is quickly passed off as being done in the name of some God or that we somehow have to eradicate it in the name of religion because somehow God would want that. Not necessarily. That just stands as a justification for our own reaction by begetting more violence. What complicates it even more is that ISIS sees the West as evil and the West says the same of ISIS. That sets up a dangerous combination. ISIS may have some distorted view of God, but in many ways, the West too has abandoned God and faith. The response of France sounds a great deal like the response of the US after 9/11 and that should give us all pause as to how to proceed. Evil cannot be destroyed but must be understood. Evil too is mystery and finds new ways to manifest itself, while still knowing that the Mystery of God stands greater.

We also know that in the time of Jesus the religious leaders of the time were notorious for it all. But at the same time, that was the trusted source. They saw themselves as the guardian of the soul. They were the keeper of the law. They were the moral authority, while all along plotting to use violence in the name of God to take down God in Jesus Christ. Evil finds a way to manifest itself in the place where it is least expected and where better to hide than in religion. It finds a way to seep into the crevices of our thinking and disguises itself in ways often unknown and unseen. Over time, the soul is sold out. It’s not just the religion we know. Secularism becomes a religion. Nationalism becomes a religion. Fundamentalism becomes a religion. We have no patience to just sit with these opposing realities and struggle with them and to understand them and learn new ways to respond to them; these realities are nothing new. The means by which it’s done and accomplished may be completely different, but the battle between good and evil, God and the devil, the quest for one’s soul, or whatever way you want to put it is timeless and not just beyond us, but something that often battles within.

And so there is this Gospel today and the last time we will hear from the Gospel of Mark this year. We’ll hear from John next week and then move into Luke for Advent. He too uses some hard language about tribulation, and darkness, the powers in the heavens will be shaken. It seems as if there is something to fear. But the writers of these gospels as I have said before are not proclaiming a message of fear but rather that of love and hope in the midst of fear. They are about to witness the destruction of the temple of Jesus Christ but also the long-standing temple that has withstood the test of time. That destruction takes on a deeper meaning for what I have already said. It was the keeper of the law. It was the place of moral authority. But it was also the place where evil was just as present and had lost its way. In order for something new to arise from the rubble, as Daniel tells us in the first reading today, this transition into mystery must become the new reality. We must learn to sit with it and learn from it in order to grow from it. The battle that ensues out there on our streets, in our nation, and in our world is the battle that ensues in our very lives in our own search for the soul and our struggle with good and evil.

The events we are witnessing in Paris and right on our own streets can seem dark and dismal, and they are. It is the reality of a sinful people. It is the reality of war. It is the reality of evil that exists and remains just as much mystery to each of us. But the message of the gospel or that of Daniel in Israel being led out of exile, are not of destruction, even if it feels that way. It feels that way and it feels like separation, just as we experience in death. Everything we know is passing away, leading us to the unknown. We too quickly want to make it all about the end times, but in that regard, we then succumb to the thinking of ISIS and will once again finding ourselves reacting out of fear and perpetuating violence. We make this Gospel into something literal rather than as image and metaphor for deeper meaning and change in our lives, the search for one’s soul and a language that has been all but lost in the Western World.

There are no easy answers to any of it and probably the worst thing we can do is simply throw are arms up in the air and give up. At the same time, we want to react. We want to react with more violence somehow thinking that if we destroy it out there that it will somehow be wiped clean of the earth. That too is naive and a childish understanding of God and Evil. Rather, the invitation is to sit with the uncertainty and allow ourselves to be suspended between these realities. It’s where faith happens. It’s where dialogue happens. It’s where change happens. Because if there is something we always have to keep in mind, it’s not just ISIS that we think must change, it’s also us. When we allow ourselves to be suspended in the unknown of already and not yet, between now and forever, it will feel a lot like the gospel and in that moment, our lives are changed, we no longer choose sides, and we become agents of change in the world and seekers of our truest self, our soul.

Seeking Our Truest Self

Isaiah 53: 10-11; Hebrews 4: 14-16; Mark 10: 35-45

One of the central teaching of the writings of Thomas Merton, whom Pope Francis referenced when he spoke to Congress, is what he would call a tension between the true self and the false self. By false self he means, in simple terms, the illusion we create for ourselves of who we think we should be, who we want others to think we are, our ego, it’s a small self that we create that often protects us from being hurt, which itself is an illusion. By true self he means our deepest identity in Christ or as some have put it, the largest conversation our soul can have with the world. Now it’s not that the false self is bad or anything like that; it just is and isn’t all at the same time. He goes onto say that it creates a tension within ourselves that we wrestle with our entire lives and the more we become aware of it, the more we can let it go and recognize our greatest self, our true self, and live from that place. But it’s not just individuals. The community wrestles with this tension. I believe the country continues to wrestle with this reality. And for that matter, if you’ve followed any of the Synod of Bishops in Rome these weeks, it also happens in the Church, asking who we really are about, our truest and deepest self.

I thought of that when I reflected upon this gospel of James and John seeking something that they really aren’t versed in. Really, if they had found that place within, they wouldn’t even ask the question about places of honor because they would know it’s a moot question. But they do, and of course, Jesus doesn’t condemn or belittle them, but like the rich young man last week, continues to love them and lead them to that deeper place, to their true selves. When they stand in opposition to Jesus, it in many ways represents that interior struggle that we encounter in our lives. They too are living with this illusion and it stands face to face with Christ. They have an illusion of who they are in relation to him. They have an illusion about who they think Jesus is. You know, they have all the right answers as the gospels go on in naming his identity. He is the Christ; he is the Savior; he is the Son of God. They got it all right, but they look at it through this illusion of false power that they have created. They think he’s some leader to overthrow the Roman rulers or something of the sorts and they want a piece of that! Of course, it’s not just James and John. Mark reminds us that the other ten become indignant at the two of them for asking, probably because they too had thought about it, mindful that it was just a few weeks ago that they were arguing about who was the greatest! They spend their time fighting an illusion rather than seeking Jesus for who he really is and who they really are.

Merton would say that it is one of the greatest struggles that we must face as adults, letting go of these illusions. It will be an experience of the Cross like no other. It won’t be just what they see as they watch their friend Jesus die up there, nailed to a tree, but rather than interior crisis that they will face through that event that shakes them at their very core. Their eyes will be opened to the true identity of Jesus and for that matter, their truest self and essence as well. Their lives will be changed forever because they then know that not even the suffering of death can defeat life; they will have found what it was they had always looked for and yet always had, all at the same time.

We have a tendency to lump all suffering together and at times, even equate it all with sin. If we stay in that small self, that’s what usually happens because sin then becomes all about morality. Yet, Merton and others would stress that it has more to do with living in that false self and succumbing to someone less than we really are. We hear of the Suffering Servant in the first reading and a God who sympathizes with our weaknesses in the Letter to the Hebrews today. And yes, this God does stand with us in our physical pain and great suffering in that way, but this God also shows us the way to the fullness of life that we desire as individuals and as community. It’s not in seeking that power as James and John do in today’s Gospel. Jesus reminds them and us that when we seek it beyond ourselves, we end up abusing it and lording it over others. That’s not true power. He leads them and us into the recesses of our being. Through the suffering of the Cross, the illusions that we create for ourselves and others are broken open and our true self is revealed. We no longer have to hold onto something that isn’t real in the first place, although it sure does feel like it. We no longer have to live in such a small space but rather recognize the tension within ourselves, let it go, and live freely the life we have been given. We all know we have one chance at this and although this path and way that is taught to us can be very painful, smashing through our illusions, it’s the way to the eternal and the breaking in of the Kingdom in our own lives. Who of us wouldn’t wan that? We pray that the illusions of our own lives are broken open, we stop fighting and holding onto it, and allow ourselves the opportunity to live from a different place of power, our truest self in the depths of our hearts and souls.

Violence, again.

I turned the television off this evening. I couldn’t handle getting pulled into another senseless tragedy in this country surrounding violence, when someone out there feels the deep pain within themselves can only be “erased” through an act of violence on other human beings. Of course, as is often typical, it’s a man that harbors such anger, depression and hostility towards others, unable to confront his own pain and frail humanity while often living a split life virtually through a computer, believing there is somehow an absence of pain there; when in reality, it only compounds the pain all the more. When will we break free of the numbness that has consumed us, seeing lives not for what they are but as something and someone other than ourselves? Another moment when we feel helpless in the face of such tragedy and how often we do when it doesn’t impact us directly.

It’s hard not to have the past week or so as a backdrop when Pope Francis visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City, less than a week prior to the shooting in Oregon this day. Some of his very first words spoken publicly at the memorial were, “The water we see flowing towards that empty pit reminds us of all those lives which fell prey to those who think that destruction, tearing down, is the only way to settle conflicts. It is the silent cry of those who were victims of a mindset which knows only violence, hatred and revenge. A mindset which can only cause pain, suffering, destruction and tears.” Although he speaks of the utter destruction of human life taken on that day back in 2001, in how many other circumstances can they relate? Parents having to make sense of their sons and daughters who will never return home from school, from the streets, from serving in another country. Sons and Daughters, brothers and sisters, never having the opportunity to fulfill whatever it is they were studying and the dreams that had still lied dormant within their souls.

That empty pit, as Pope Francis spoke of, lies deep within all of us, tears running steadily on what seems and appears to be an open wound in our country and in the hearts and souls of so many. It’s hard to fully understand the plight of another and the internal struggle that ensues the human soul. We can get stuck in that mindset that somehow we can erase the pain from our lives and that of the country by eliminating what it is that we hate, undoubtably hate about ourselves and a God that seems to have all but abandoned. Yet, the path of conversion and the descent into the soul takes us on such a painful journey within ourselves where we can move to less reaction to the world while becoming more aware of our own hurt, knowing that deep within that pain is the place of great gift that we have to offer to the world. Yet, we avoid it, shun it, hate it, bury it, try to rid ourselves of it, unable to face what has hurt us the most, leaving us with never-ending violence in our lives, on our streets, in our classrooms, in our homes, and around the world.

It’s hard to understand the call for further violence in the world once you begin to understand and learn from it within yourself, seeking healing and reconciliation rather than blame or victimhood. As a matter of fact, all you can do is cry with the world, cry with the parents, their siblings, this country, when over and over again we quickly move into debate rather than as Pope Francis had continued last week, “to settle conflicts through dialogue.” We fight about guns and we fight about mental illness, all of which is an illness within itself, shattered egos, when we fail to see the larger vision of this humanity and the divine indwelling, and the lives that are being cheated, stolen, and destroyed, unable to lament our own brokenness and short-sightedness, unable to see the face of this merciful God. It’s hard to understand that all of it takes precedence over a human life, any human life, that has been wounded, that at this time needs to be held, loved, healed, understood, listened to rather than talking over and lost in the realm of policy, self-interests, political gain. Numbers; it’s all that we are to any of that, numbers, votes, dollar signs, whatever way you look at it, the dignity of the human life is lost in the scream of violence that has become second-nature in our lives and world. We find ourselves, over and over again, lost in that bottomless empty pit within ourselves trying to make sense of the tears, trying to understand the pain and hoping that one day there will be peace.

Violence, again. And all I can do is weep.