Two In One

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Today in Mark’s gospel we find one of the most important questions ever asked, for which we get a double answer that really is a single if we know how to see. It’s the long answer to what we have been given elsewhere. Today it seems so important to go that extra mile; it isn’t a time for shorthand. So consider every clause — even every word of the answer to “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus begins to answer with a declaration of who this God is to whom we owe allegiance and then with what is contained in our covenant toward this God. Waking up the audience with an imperative, Jesus begins:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!

What follows is a list of all the superlatives that speak of the totality of what is expected: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. (We might wish to ask ourselves in this time of challenge: Am I ready to give up all activity that might pass along the infection running rampant now in our country and the world? Is there anything that I want to do today that will be dangerous to others or myself? )

The second part of this “great commandment” (because we really cannot do one without the other) is: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Clearly that means today: Don’t go out anywhere that you might encounter another person unless it is necessary for the good of the whole.

How close are we to following the command contained in this gospel reading? Can we see that what we do or don’t do for God is also the way we love one another? This is perhaps the most important work of this day. Let us be about loving.

Patron and Protector

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On this feast of St Joseph I am drawn to the word “patron” as that is what we Sisters of St. Joseph call the man behind the name. Information about Joseph is almost nil. We know only from scant mention in Scripture and from legend that he was a quiet man, husband of Mary and human father to Jesus. Obedient to his dreams and visions, we find him trustworthy and faithful to his family and his God.

It is rather extraordinary that we who live in this time of an information glut but who are generally unwilling to take most things “on faith” would see Joseph as someone to be revered without much proof. It says to me that we are still a people willing to believe in what we have been taught of goodness as well as extrapolation from what is written, e.g.: Joseph’s dreams saved Mary’s reputation and actually her life as well. He saved Jesus from the violence of Herod and taught him to work in wood – a noble occupation. Thus, he must have been loving and courageous in a quiet sort of way.

Here are some words that describe a patron: promoter, friend, guarantor, helper, supporter, advocate, champion protector, supporter…We trust that Joseph was all those things. And others in the world believe all that of Joseph as well. In a list generated by the Franciscan Media website, we learn that the following countries and groups and life issues have been placed under the patronage (protection) of Saint Joseph: Belgium, Canada, carpenters, China, fathers, happy death, Peru, Russia, Social Justice, Travelers, The Universal Catholic Church, Vietnam and workers the world over. Oh yes, and Congregations of religious Sisters of St. Joseph everywhere.

So what is to be learned from all this? I might say that a person ought not to try to be something s/he is not but only be the best person possible in order to respond to the unique destiny offered by the Divine. And if one is blessed to be placed under the “patronage” of one as revered as Joseph, today should be a day of deep gratitude and celebration – as it always is!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

Just A Word

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As we continue to hear the seriousness of the coronavirus statistics, it’s easy to wonder if there are more deaf people in our country than we thought! Or is it that we just refuse to comprehend that there is reason for what the directives of government mean? I know that when we’re young, we think that we are indestructible but seeing news reports of hordes of young adults at Florida beaches for “spring break” just yesterday is truly shocking!

I am not willing to generalize this attitude to say the spread of the virus is the fault of millennials. There are many people – even in my generation – who say things like: “I’m just going to be out for an hour…” as if the virus has a watch to catch those spending too much time at meetings. Shelter in place means STAY HOME! unless there is serious reason to venture out for some necessity. The virus does not announce itself as it comes close to you. Are you sure you aren’t infected?

May each of us look to ourselves and refocus on the seriousness of this moment. (I know I’m preaching to the choir here so please forgive the rant.) May we do our best going forward in this life-or-death situation.

American, of Irish Descent

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I am not far from “the Greatest Generation,” a designation of people who shepherded the United States through the 20th century – most having come here from other countries and the majority from Europe. I grew up hearing about people who had “the map of Ireland on his/her face” and recognizing what in their speech was never called an accent but rather a “brogue.” The most important lessons I learned from my parents and extended Irish-American family (the first generation born in the U.S.A.) were about faith and love of God, gratitude for the beauty of the world and in the good things in life, and perseverance in the difficult times. Undergirding all was the music that told the stories of all those things and made us long for Ireland as if we had lived, struggled and celebrated there at least for awhile.

Central to this legendary life (please pardon my hyperbole!) was St. Patrick, patron saint of “the old sod.” I will leave the stories to your research as there are many. I must, however, nod to Patrick’s faith by quoting from what is likely the most famous prayer attributed to him. Whenever I pray it I feel compelled to stand (just as at the pledge of allegiance to our flag) and feel the sun rise inside me as I proclaim:

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to see before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to be before me, God’s shield to protect me…Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me… (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

Just Wash and Be Clean

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In a rather startling coincidence, the first reading for today’s liturgy tells the story of Naaman, an army commander of the king of Aram (see 2 KGS 3). Naaman was afflicted with leprosy. When he was sent to the king of Israel who sent him to Elisha the prophet who ordered him to “go and wash seven times in the Jordan” to be healed, he was incensed because the instructions sounded so mundane. He was expecting something more extraordinary to be necessary for his cure. His servants asked him: “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”

The coincidence I’m seeing is with the directives we’ve been given by the CDC and other entities with whom we interact. “Wash your hands” is the first item on the list. “Stay home” will be hard for those who need to go to work, but it is not the directive itself but rather the related issues that are the difficulty: childcare, everyday necessities = shopping, etc. Just thinking of how complicated our lives have become will be a worthy topic for reflection going forward. Cooperation is key. So stay safe and do your best. Pray for all those who find this situation very fear-producing.

In solidarity, THE SOPHIA CENTER IS SUSPENDING ALL ACTIVITIES AT BOTH LOCATIONS UNTIL THE CRISIS IS PAST — BEGINNING TODAY.

(The daily blog will continue.)

Be Here Now

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I found this quote from Eckhart Tolle in my email this morning. Although it may sound totally self-evident to you, it seems to me that it could be useful in our day today because there are so many strictures on our lives right now. If we want to use (rather than squander) this “however long” experience, having a simply stated goal like this might be just the thing to help us remember that consciousness is the way to proceed…

You cannot find yourself in the past or future. The only place where you can find yourself is in the Now.

Remember

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Psalm 105 is somewhat like a history lesson with the psalmist reminding the people of all the good things God has done to keep a covenantal relationship with them. The call to “remember” is like a bell or a shout that calls the people back in song to each event.

It seems that perhaps we are at such a challenging moment in our history right now and we would do well to remember what good things God has done for us. Sometimes it is the challenge that calls us to our greatest strength. I found that kind of challenge in the face of universal distress in Lynn Bauman’s commentary this morning. He says the following:

To be in an inner state of “unforgetfulness” (or unforgetting) is considered crucial to spiritual attainment and growth. Forgetfulness has dire consequences. It does not allow for the full potential of a human being. A crucial aspect of the practice of remembrance is the invocation of God’s sacred name. To speak God’s name is to remember not only who God is, but who we are in relationship to God. Practice this form of remembrance by choosing one of the divine names and repeat or chant it with inner attention. (e.g. “Holy One, O Holy One”) Live through a day seeking to stay in an inner state of remembering the presence of God. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.268)

How to Proceed…

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Today the reality of the word “PANDEMIC” has reached my consciousness in a way that calls for some decision-making about the immediate future, especially about work and travel. For help with that task I turn to Meg Wheatley to see if her book, Perseverance, can lead me in the search for rational thought and action. Here is–in part–what I found.

Being in not-knowing, open and aware, is how we discover right action — the appropriate means for what needs to happen. Right action usually doesn’t match our plans, conceived as they were from the outside. But now that we’re inside the situation, curious and uncertain, we’re able to notice what’s here…If we take this approach, in every situation, we discover that the resources we need are already here. We have more than enough to work with. It’s our task to notice this abundance, and then figure out how to work with it appropriately…The situation, no matter how difficult, doesn’t need to be different. We just need to see it differently. (p. 101)

Reflect on this. Pay attention and stay safe out there.

Human Dignity

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Last night we — the Sophia Center — held our monthly event in a series called “Confluence.” The title is a nod to our two rivers, the Chenango and the Susquehanna, which come together in Binghamton, not far from our main office. The goal of the series is to highlight issues of concern in our county and the broader world to which we hope attendees will “flow together” by responding for the good of all.

Our title for this month’s reflection was “Human Dignity” and, in the introductory comments, I read the following “Wikipedia” definition that I thought to be worth repeating here. See if you agree.

Human dignity is the recognition that human beings possess a special value intrinsic to their humanity and as such are worthy of respect simply because they are human beings.