The Promise Realized

Micah 5: 1-4; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-45

I’ve been reading this book, God is Young, which is basically an interview that Pope Francis had done with an Italian journalist as a preliminary conversation before the Synod held in October on young people. The basic premise surrounds the question, “How do we move forward?” It seems that we’re rather stuck, not only in the Church world, but certainly as a country and even city, where it seems that we just can’t seem to move beyond this point of separateness. The gist of what Francis tells the journalist is that we have to connect the two generations that often get tossed aside in our world; obviously young people as to whom the synod was dealing with as well as the elderly. The young tend to get disregarded as being naïve and the elderly we don’t have time for or don’t want to deal with the reality of aging. He says, the answer forward is in those two. The young people are the dreamers, the visionaries, the prophetic voices where as the elderly have the lived experience and the wisdom to temper the energy but combined a way forward evolves and unfolds. He pretty much says anyone in between the two have a tendency to become too attached to the systems, whether in terms or religion, politics, or economically, that they don’t want to change and can’t see the necessity and so they try to silence the two that have the necessary vision.

It is, on some level, what unfolds in this dramatic scene in today’s gospel from Luke in the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. It is the reconciling of the past and future, in the one that is barren with the one who is full of life, the old and the new. Neither has any idea what the other has been through following the announcement of the birth of their children until they have this encounter with one another. In that very moment, two worlds collide with one another and a semblance of peace comes to their hearts, confirming that God has fulfilled the promise of long ago through their very lives. Here are two women at opposite ends of their lives and yet facing similar situations. Mary, in her teens, now faces with trepidation the shaming of a society, casting her aside for having this child under such circumstances and Elizabeth who has lived with the same reality in remaining childless her entire life and now beyond child-bearing age. In this moment, the Christ reconciles these two worlds and a vision unfolds, a vision that Luke has already began to spell out in the telling of these miraculous stories.

As the promise is fulfilled, Mary will go on and proclaim a vision for who this child is to be and a radical image of a God who has delivered the two of them. Mary’s Magnificat will turn the patriarchal God of the past on its head and a fresher and newer understanding of God who becomes incarnate as we will celebrate on Christmas. Luke already begins to point us in that very direction with these two women as the prophetic voices announcing this God of vision. The one would be seen as the prophetic voice, Zechariah, the head of the house, the man, is silenced in the announcement of their pregnancy and the voice of the women are raised in their consistent faith and trust in God, not separated from their lived experience of shame and being voiceless. Before the Christ is born, Luke already begins to point us to a new reality of God of giving voice to the ones who had been cast aside announcing the fulfillment of the promise made from the beginning of time.

You would think that Israel would have greater faith and trust in such a God, certainly symbolized through these two women, knowing their own heritage of a God who has seen the people through exile. Here two woman, one full of life and the other barren, learn to trust not only through their experience, but the experience of their ancestors of past that regardless of their own circumstances, God will see them through, even if not experienced first-hand. They obviously knew that Moses never did, and yet the dream, the promise, the prophetic voice continued to break through reconciling past with a present all in the name of Christ, God’s will.  Israel, to this day, stands as a microcosm of a separated world. The place of life and birth, as Micah proclaims, in Bethlehem, still remains separated from the barren city of Jerusalem by a wall. When we separate the two rather than reconciling we become what we are, a stuck people, clinging to dysfunction rather than trusting a new vision and hope for the human race, for the Church, our country and world.

As we gather for this Fourth Week or day of Advent, we gather mindful that these two women are more than just a story; they are each of us. God has planted within all of us a vision, a dream, a prophetic voice that can get out of control if not tempered by the voice of wisdom gently moving us along, teaching us to trust and let go. As much as it needs to happen in our Church and world in bringing together the ones without a voice, it’s a challenge to each of us individually as well. Their story remains are story as well. Israel, despite it’s own inability to get out of its own way, raises us these two radical women today while silencing the powerful ones of the world, leading us to a place of trust, that the promise given from the beginning of time continues to unfold and be fulfilled in our very lives. Sure we often prefer begin stuck in what we know, but Mary and Elizabeth remind us just how unsatisfying life is lived in that way. The more we keep ourselves open to the unknown, to mystery, to a God of great surprises, that same God will continue to give birth to us through the very same Spirit that has always stood as the great reconciler of dreams and wisdom. The promise given from the beginning is our promise, to have faith and trust and God will see us through. We may not know what it all looks like, but that’s why these two are about trust and the courage to say yes, not just once, but over the course of their lives, gradually opened to the birth of a new God, a new reality, rooted in Mystery.

Looking Without Seeing

I Sam 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13; Eph 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41

Helen Keller, who, of course, was not just blind but also deaf had to overcome the obstacle of thinking that she was somehow deficient because of her limitation in hearing and seeing. Many of us have to do the same thing in different capacities over the course of our lives. She goes onto become a great writer as well as activist and humanitarian, despite what she originally saw as a limitation. In the end, she had commented that there was something even worse than being blind and that was having sight and yet still unable to see. How many times has that function of sight really limited us as well, where we have sight and yet still unable to see.

It’s what Jesus is confronting in today’s gospel with the man born blind who sits on the side of the road, a beggar, as John tells us. Mixed up, though, in this story are all these other conflicts that are important to recognize because they will carry through now until Good Friday, and quite frankly, some even beyond that. Of course, there’s the Pharisees. We’re accustomed to that squabble after hearing it week in and week out. They are the legalists. They see everything through the lens of right and wrong, good and bad, sin and not, and in the end, judge and label everyone according to it. In many ways they end up dehumanizing people and strip them of their dignity because of some standard that they hold that pretty much no one else can match, certainly not a man born blind who is a beggar. Quite honestly, they wouldn’t have the time of day for such a person.

The other squabble is with “the Jews”. We hear that language often in John’s gospel which seems rather odd being that they were all Jewish. Why would they need to be singled out when it encompassed the majority? In today’s language, in these passages they really are the insiders. They view everyone as either insider or outsider and have total disregard for everyone who isn’t part of the in crowd. They grow resentful with Jesus and understand that he’s a Jew like them on some level, but also see him as an outsider and look for every possible way as labeling him as such. They too would have no time for the one they label beggar because he’s not one of them. Ironically, Jesus spends much of his time with them and tries to restore them to their place in the community while restoring their dignity.

There is one other conflict though in this passage and that’s the parents of the blind man. It would seem rather odd, I’d think, for a parent to turn their back on their son, despite his circumstances in life. They deny having anything to do with him regaining his sight because, as John tells us, of fear. Fear holds them back from claiming their own faithfulness to Jesus. As Jews they too would have been with the in crowd and want that sense of belonging. Are they willing to risk it to step out and trust their son in the healing Jesus has brought to his life. It doesn’t seem so.

All that said, the blind man, who happens to be a beggar, has no bearing on the life of the community. He’s an outsider. He’s obviously done something grave that he’s been punished in this way. He’s a nobody and no one wants anything to do with him, except, of course, Jesus. He quickly goes from being a nobody into the one who has the spotlight shining upon him in the middle of all these conflicts that are ensuing. But it takes him time as well. He doesn’t quickly come to an understanding of what has taken place in his life or who this Jesus guy is either. The gospel writer reminds us that he first sees him as a man, then a prophet, then as Lord who has transformed his very life and existence. What he had seen as an obstacle becomes the source of grace in his life.

The same in true for Paul who we hear from in today’s second reading from Ephesians. He uses the image of light and darkness. He had to physically become blind in order to see, knowing his own conversion story. He was a Pharisee as well as an insider and so ingrained in that thinking that he couldn’t see anyone else beyond that limitation. For Paul, if you weren’t an insider, the way he had determined, then there was no place for you. God literally blinds him, even though spiritually he already was, and pushes him to sit in that blindness before he can gain sight and begin to see the other as not someone separate from but one with and not much different than himself. Using his language of today, Paul, and us, are often forced into the darkness of our own lives before God can somehow begin to do something with us. We all have blindspots and darkness as long as we are on this earth, but we also like to avoid them and deny they’re there. The blind man today, along with Jesus, begins to expose those blindspots and yet, they still cannot see as God sees.

It’s where young Samuel is led in today’s first reading. He has no intention on heading to Jesse to anoint a new king. He thought all along that it would be Saul and now fears for his life thinking Saul is going to take his life because of the turn of events. Yet, he goes to Jesse, but once there is still trapped in his own way of seeing. He looks for power, for strength, for someone who can overturn the enemies. This is who he thought should be the next king, but, of course, God has different plans. The writer tells us that Samuel, and for that matter, each of us, see by appearance but God sees the heart. There it is. God knows our story and sees the deepest longings of our hearts.

Our sight has so many limitations. We become blinded by what we see and in turn, label and judge. We see color. We see economic advantages. We see what we don’t have. We see lifestyles that we become envious of. We see people that bring things upon themselves. We see what we wish we had and don’t. We see biases. We see insiders and outsiders. We see, so often the sin of the other and ourselves. It’s hard, as Helen Keller pointed out, to have sight and yet see. The Gospel challenges us to be thrown into the story as the blind man and ask ourselves where we are on our own journey of faith. We all have these conflicts alive within us, the pharisee, the Jew, and even the parental voices that remain, that often hold us back from becoming who we really are in life. When we no longer see them as obstacle but as a source of grace, we’re changed forever. We make the journey of the blind man, of seeing Jesus as man, as prophet, and eventually, as our Lord. We pray for the awareness and acceptance of our own blindspots that prevent us from seeing, not by appearance, but as we heard today, of the heart, as God see us. Like Helen Keller, if we surrender ourselves to the change, transformation, conversation that we are being called to in life, what we have seen simply as limitation opens the door to possibility. I was blind but now I see.

Hungering from Within–Our Deepest Call

1Sam 3: 3-10, 19; 1Corinth 6: 13-15, 17-20; John 1: 35-42

Our pastoral council has spent some time looking at our mission and vision statements and where we’re going as a parish. If you pull up the website you’ll see a vision that says on the headline, “manifesting God’s love in Govans and beyond.” That came to mind as I read these readings today for this weekend and the call of Samuel and the disciples. How are we manifesting that love? It’s been what the readings have been about these past weeks. We heard that with the birth of the Christ, the visit of the Magi and then last week that manifestation in the Baptism and in the Sacramental sign, but today it now becomes the learning ground for the disciples and how it will be manifested in their life. Jesus begins to spell out his own mission and vision for the disciples.

For beginners, because I think there’s at least two maybe a third call in our lives, it can seem quite simplistic. Jesus simply peeks their curiosity in his response to their question. They leave what they did and began to follow. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing, but something that Jesus says and is spoke to something deep within them that they leave and go. Somehow THE Christ was speaking to the Christ within them. You may remember a few years ago when there was that movement, “what would Jesus do?”. I think that’s a lot what it was like for the early disciples and even ourselves. They first set out to emulate the qualities of Jesus and do what Jesus did, but eventually that call to manifest goes deeper and begins to unsettle the disciples and us. It begins to ask more and to give up more,including one’s life, and in John’s Gospel, many are turned off he tells us in the sixth chapter and they leave. With John, there seems to be many miscues. Jesus is trying to lead them to one place and they’re still not there, needing to see, and do what he did, but ultimately, the cross of Christ will catch up with them, deeply rooted and embedded in their greatest hunger and longing, that will lead to the second call to leave everything and do more than just emulate what Jesus did but begin to manifest the Christ within to the world, their and our gift to the world, coming from deep within the soul.

The Corinthians, well, they’re often lost. They have hunger but it is in no way fed in proper ways. They loved to party but in the process, neglect those in need, the poor, those they deemed less than themselves, and Paul wanted nothing to do with it and proceeds to try to lead them to that place within themselves as individuals and community where they can experience the deeper connection with humanity. He was calling them to become aware that there is something deeper that unites them and the cross of Christ would eventually catch up to them as well. Deep within, they fed that hunger and it manifested itself to a life of immorality, as he says, and divisiveness. They weren’t even at a place where they could emulate what Jesus did let alone the manifestation of the Christ through their lives in the world! The call from God runs deep and yet is quite still and quiet and will remain until a response of yes from the individual and community. The catch, once there is a yes, there’s no turing back. Nothing else will satisfy or fulfill.

Obviously Samuel is still young in his own call from God and is questioning what’s going on around him; he still hasn’t become aware that it’s coming from deep within him. Much will be asked of him and how his vocation is manifested. Heck, not even the elder Eli can at first begin to understand what’s going on in Samuel’s life. Yet, until there is an acknowledgment and a response, the call persists. God keeps nagging at young Samuel until there is a response to the God who calls. We don’t hear what he’s going to be called to, but long before Jesus even steps foot on this earth, the cross of the great Christ will catch up with young Samuel. Again, that nagging keeps driving his deepest hunger to respond yes, despite the fact that he will be called to be the bearer of bad news to the people. He will be called to warn them of their waywardness in life and the need to seek that deeper hunger. You can run all you want, but that cross of Christ, imprinted on our very souls, will catch up with us eventually as well. We won’t feel fulfilled. We won’t feel joy in life. We’ll start to feel empty and overwhelmed by life. So often because we avoid the call to “come and see” what we can’t see in the depths of our souls, stirring a hunger that can only be fed by God and a daily yes to the will of the Father in manifesting His love in the world.

As we enter these weeks of ordinary time, how are we manifesting that love, the deepest call of God our lives can bear, in Govans and beyond? God is always calling. There’s nothing wrong with God. We pray for that stirring of the Spirit in our own hearts and souls and an awareness to it. The call to discipleship is not limited to certain people. God’s love is to be manifested in many different ways and in many different places and deep within, God has placed that call within you and me. Deep within, God awaits our yes to our deepest human hunger, mirrored in the cross of Christ, our yes to manifesting God’s love in the world through our very lives through our call as people and community.

A Better Vision

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17: 5-10

Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a poem entitled Children Learn What They Live.  Some may have heard of it before, but if not, the first half goes like this, “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.  If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.  If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive.  If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself.  If I child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.  If a child lives with jealousy, he learns what envy is.  If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.”  I thought of that this week when I saw the first reading from Habakkuk speak of vision, but also in light of what has unfolded in our federal government this week and watching how they respond to one another in this period of shutdown.  We all can only live what we have learned in our lives, especially as children.  If we have lived with negativity, judgment, and all the rest that the author speaks of, it is no wonder that we respond in this way.  So often, though, we just figure, well, there’s nothing we can do.  No, there probably isn’t much we can do to “fix” this system, but we can change the way we respond in these circumstances.  If we are responding in the same way as we have seen many of these politicians, digging in the trenches, we really have to ask ourselves just how much true faith is a part of our lives.

Ironically, Habakkuk sees and experiences the same in those governing in his time.  He continues to plead with God about the utter destruction and violent behavior that he witnesses, so often with the poorest of the poor being abused and taken advantage of and Habakkuk can’t stand watching it all unfold anymore.  He keeps pleading with God that this perpetual cycle of negativity and judgment continues and it seems as if prayers are not being heard or answered.  Finally, in the reading we hear today, God responds.  After witnessing such devastation, God tells Habakkuk, remember the vision of what could be.  Remember the vision of what should be and continue to strive for a greater way, a more perfect way, a way, as Saint Paul says, the power that comes from love; all other powers are mere worldly desires.  To be a people of faith, we are challenged to respond in the same way.  I know, I’ve wanted to throw something at the television this week, listening to people throw temper tantrums, like little children, and I had to step back and look at it from a “third eye” and struggle with how we respond in faith and try to stop that cycle of violence and negativity that is so much a part of our culture and the world we live in and very much rooted in the political system.  People of faith must respond differently.

It was a challenge for the disciples as well, who, today, simply ask for an increase in faith.  We’ve heard the challenging parables the past two months here and at times we didn’t want to hear the message because it comes up against the way we live our lives as well.  Just prior to this Jesus tells them that they must forgive, forgive, and forgive again, while recognizing the temptations that will continue to come there way and will try to sway them away from the great vision.  As these weeks go on and we approach the Cross, it is imperative to them to seek the greater vision, the better way of life, and don’t fall into the trap of perpetuating violence in the world, which they will witness first hand with Jesus.  Jesus tells them the faith is freely given; it’s already there!!  You can do the impossible, even change ourselves, if we have just a mustard seed size of faith within!  It’s already there!  We may not change what is out there, but we can change the way we live and respond in life, in our family, in our community, and in this parish.  With a little faith, we can stop the cycle of negativity, judgment, and ridicule that plagues our lives. As we gradually change in here, that change begins to seep out into the world around us.

Dorothy Nolte continues on the second half of the poem to paint that greater vision.  She writes, “If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident.  If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.  If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative.  If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love.  If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.  If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal.  If a child lives with sharing, he learns about generosity.  If a child lives with honest and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are.  If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and in those around him.  If a child lives with friendliness, he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.  If YOU live with serenity, your child will live with peace of mind.  With what is your child living?”

If we simply buy into that cycle of negativity, judgment, and ridicule, we don’t have to ask in the years to come why the next generations are doing the same and continuing the cycle; they have seen us do it all too often.  As people of faith, we are called to seek out the greater vision as Habakkuk is reminded today, despite witnessing so much violence and hate.  We pray that we may have the courage to be aware of how we are responding in these situations in life, and ask ourselves, is it really what we want of the next generation, because they are watching.  We pray that we may respond in the ways that leads to that more perfect vision with love, forgiveness, prayer, and mercy.  If we are grounded in faith, the choice we make should be simple; seek out the greater good for all.