Expanding the View

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As I was looking ahead at the liturgical calendar this morning, my eye fell on an unfamiliar name for the “Saint of the Day.” The name was Saint Charbel Makhlouf and he was a Maronite monk, a priest from Lebanon. I will leave you to look up his biography which gets quite intriguing after his death. Suffice it to say that Makhlouf was raised in a pious home and was drawn to the hermit life. He was born on May 8, 1828 and died on December 24, 1898 after living 23 years as a solitary hermit. The story gets interesting from there…Check it out!

Being a “cradle Catholic” and having lived in religious life for 55 years, one would think I have at least heard of all the saints, especially the ones whose biographies included some miraculous moments. Not so in this case, however! My knowledge of the saints does not stretch past the Middle Ages, it seems, except when it comes to very popular and/or extraordinary people from the Western world, like St. Theresa of Lisieux, (the Little Flower) or Pope St. John XXIII, remembered for the Second Vatican Council that renewed the Western Church in the 1960s.

I know now, after this morning’s foray into the lives of the saints, that I have much to learn. Have you heard of St. Andre Bessette, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Augustine Zhao Rong, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Andrew Dung-Lac or St. Sabas? They are all accessible on the internet and their biographies provide some interesting reading.

The world is large and needs to go beyond our own backyards. Why not take a trip today to some unknown “Holy Land” and treat yourself to a new acquaintance or two?

God’s “Law”

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There are many iterations in the Bible of what God expects of us. In today’s lectionary readings we have the text from the book of Exodus (Ex. 20: 1-17) that has come to be known as “The Ten Commandments.” The older I get, the more I find reason to live by “The Golden Rule” which calls us to “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, all your soul and all your strength.” (Deut. 6:5) I found 25 translations of that verse today and then from the Christian Scriptures a whole other group of texts including one from Luke (10:27) that adds “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s all about love no matter how you read it and I find that the most difficult and necessary way to live. Some people are easy for us to love and some most difficult. The ways that we come to love must be good for each person. For some, it is what is known in our culture as “tough love” while for others it is quite easy to find the road to loving “with all your might,” as the Scriptures say. We can only do our best and wake up each morning ready to try again to move toward the love with which we are loved by God.

Forgiveness

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While flipping through a. magazine called Breathe that I had picked up in an airport store some years ago, I found the following quote that seemed worth repeating. Perhaps a good start to the “work week.”

The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, depression, and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, and self-confidence. What better reasons to embrace forgiveness in your life…

On the following page there is a drawing of a dozen or so balloons of different sizes that all seem to be ready to fly away. The directions suggest filling in the balloons with things the reader wants to let go of…a great visual…I think I will create my own page and color the balloons to add another level of meaning.

Won’t you join me?

Shepherding?

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I smiled as I was reading the daily devotional “Living Faith” this morning. Today’s reflection was written by the very popular Joyce Rupp, author of many spiritual books and an often sought-after speaker and leader of retreats. When commenting on today’s well-known gospel about the “good Shepherd,” Sister Joyce said the following: “That line (The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.) is comforting, but I sometimes wonder if I believe it.”

WHAT??? The great Joyce Rupp is doubting God’s guidance? How can that be?? Well, no. As it turns out, she isn’t doubting God’s goodness and kindness at all. She is just admitting to the kind of busyness and lack of attention that we all experience at times, when we just swim along without a thought to the path we’re on. Sometimes things then go awry and we – if we’re lucky – are shaken into attention again, ready to jump back onto the path of the Shepherd who is always willing to lead and guide us. In conclusion, Sister Joyce says the following:

Abiding faith is about believing every day, no matter what happens, that God has my back leading and guiding me even when things don’t turn out to my satisfaction.

Good news, and a good reminder to turn our attention consciously to the path we’re on each day…maybe as we rise from sleep and take that first step of the day.

Weather

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We’ve been having some rather virulent storms lately. The most astounding of them all was three nights ago when the lightning was like a cosmic light switch that someone kept turning on and off with no time to count the seconds between the lightning and the peals of thunder. (Do you understand what I’m saying? Did you learn that practice in your youth to determine how far away the storm was from you?) We were indeed in the eye of the storm and it kept repeating for over an hour! And the rain over the last few days has been torrential as well, causing streams where there were none and frustrating those whose job it is to keep the grass low to avoid ticks.

I rarely admit that I love storms…not the disastrous ones that cause havoc to the environment but the ones that just make us bow in wonder at the power that is not ours but rather belongs to the natural world. And I love to walk in the rain. Over the past weekend there was a moment when I stepped out into the early morning dripping with leftover rain and heard in my head Thomas Merton’s ode to the morning, encapsulated in my favorite sentence that seems to sing:

The most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p.131) Amen…

Speak, Lord!

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I woke up this morning at 5:55 a.m. Five, you may know, is the number of change. I don’t know much about numerology but that strikes me this morning as something that deserves attention, given that the number was repeated three times. For days we have been considering the stories of Abraham and his descendants. It seems that in the entire story there is nothing but love and forgiveness. Fears of reprisals are pushed aside. Joseph has all the evidence he needs to convince him that if he (and we) stay in touch with God and try to respect and accept that the people who are given to us are in our lives for a reason, clues will be given along the way and we will be pleasing to God. All we need to do is to stay awake and offer love as a response to every day in every way that is presented to us.

Therein lies the rub…

The Force of Mercy

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Most of us know the story of Joseph and his brothers. This is the Joseph of “the coat of many colors” whose brothers were very jealous of him and the love that his father had for him. They were so jealous, the story goes, that they stripped him of that coat, threw him into a cistern and then sold him into slavery to a passing caravan. As we know, what goes around comes around, and in time, Joseph became counselor to the pharaoh and “all the world came to Joseph to obtain grain” during the ensuing famine.

This story is so very heart-rending in that when his brothers stood before Joseph, not recognizing him, he could not hold their jealousy and smallness against them, because of his love—primarily his love for his father. He was also aware of his role in the history of the people as he said to them, “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”

This morning I came upon a reflection by Renee Yann, RSM (Religious Sisters of Mercy) that spoke of the quality of mercy, that fierce, bonding love that would not allow Joseph to hold his brothers accountable when he was face to face with them. I repeat it here for your pondering.

Praying Psalm 33 reminds me that one can never demand mercy. We cannot require the other to hold us in continual compassion. We can only hope and be grateful. Mercy is the gift of a heart moved beyond itself by love and tenderness. Such outpouring is the very nature of God in whose image we were created. Thus, for God, and for us, to be unmerciful is to be unnatural. In Psalm 33 we pray not only to receive mercy but to become mercy.”

May we all come to know the quality of mercy in our lives and disperse it as if sowing seeds in our earthly garden.

It Was Ever Thus

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More and more, I come to think that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Today’s first reading from Genesis 23-24, is the story of family life as it plays out from generation to generation: parents dying at an advanced age (Sarah at 127 years – we’re getting closer!), trying to assure acceptable mates for their children—who sometimes moved away finding mates at a distance….

It all makes me think of my mother and what a hard time she had moving from Boston to Upstate New York when my father’s job changed. It took her five months to accustom herself to the idea of moving away from her sisters and friends for a land she did not know. She was 45 years old and she had never lived more than 5 miles from her family. Syracuse, New York was 300 miles away. It was 1960 and It turned out to be a wonderful change for my mother. It was the beginning of the era of such movement and my father was a genius who sent her back “home” three times that first year for weekends so she never lost her connections with her “familiars.”

Life in these United States has certainly changed since then. My brother now lives in San Diego, California—3,000 miles away. Although I long for the rare “in-person” visits, I can be almost satisfied when we “zoom” on the weekends with my sister and sister-in-law.

As I reflect on these changes, I consider the shifts in faith practice as well. I have not been to Church in over a year—due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I am a child of my era, after all. Most of us zoom our spiritual practices these days, and the question is whether we will ever return to “in-person” worship. In this world of “artificial intelligence” and impending trips to the moon (!) who can tell whether we will soon out-live Sarah’s 127 years…. What I think I know now is that I will continue to need person-to-person connection going forward. That is the way I find best to encounter God. If I should someday in the future see God “in the flesh,” I presume I will be transformed! Until that day, I shall keep my computer revved up (regardless of my complaints!) and continue to strive for moments of love and peace and joy coming from everything that has meaning in each moment of time.

Father and Son

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My father had a mighty love for God but he was mostly quiet about it. Only once did he tell me how he felt at the moment of preparation for receiving the Eucharist. He said he was overwhelmed, his breathing rushed. And sometimes…at special times, he felt tears coming—tears of joy, of humility…bursting with love. I can’t imagine him ever refusing or even resisting a directive from God…

I was thinking of that as I read the story of Abraham and Isaac today. I can’t imagine my father ever being in the situation of Abraham, needing to choose between God and his son. I will have to have a serious conversation with God about the reason for the test with Abraham. Was the test really necessary? Maybe…the people (not just Abraham) might have needed a reminder of their covenant with God…. How would you characterize this story? Put yourself in the place of each of the characters and see how it feels. continue until you have a deep sense of what is happening and maybe you will have new insight into the relationship between Abraham and Isaac. What can you learn?

Sitting Still

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7:02am: I have just had two hours of silence – in and out of dozing – not achieving anything, not even trying…aware of God’s presence and my “being here,” watching my thoughts come and go and not trying for anything. The world is waking up around me now – cars going by…impetus for moving. I wonder what effect these hours will have on my day: such a rare (non-)happening! Non-action feels so full. What can be learned from such a practice? I hope to learn…