Gospel Reflection for August 31, 2014, 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 Aug

“Those who want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”

Matthew 16.24

Jesus recommends denying oneself and taking up our crosses in Sunday’s gospel.  This saying packs Jesus’ whole life into a single sentence.  Jesus does not follow God’s will only in carrying the cross.  He comes among us to heal and reveal God’s nearness and love.  He lives his mission throughout his life, even unto death.

How do we imitate Jesus’ self-giving in our lives?  Slowly, over a lifetime, I’d say.  I resist a call to martyrdom. Most of us today see no need to invent suffering.  We give our energies daily to work and family commitments.  Young parents exhaust themselves with round the clock care for a new child.  Older spouses care for one another through doctors’ appointments, blood draws, and treatments in sickness.  Daily we give ourselves in loving one another.

In what ways has giving of your life helped you find you life?

 

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Fighting Disease

27 Aug

On August 18, in light of Ferguson, Kaya Oakes, a Catholic writing faculty member at UCBerkeley, tweeted:

The sickening thing about racism is how repetitive it is. From generation to generation. That’s also the definition of a disease.

It got me thinking hard about generational disease. My friend talked about being worried when his wife got pregnant. He didn’t want to pass on his Type 1 Diabetes to his child. My brother has talked about maybe never having children. He doesn’t want to be responsible for passing on his struggle with depression to his kids. I have a child growing in me right now. What I hope to not pass down is an eating disorders. Eating disorders and disordered eating runs in my family. I got it. I believe it is a disease. I also believe I am healthy today and have done the work to give my child a chance at a different kind of relationship with food and body. But, like Type 1 diabetes and depression, it is the kind of disease you are never totally free from. I fought to love food and my body through therapy and becoming an active advocate by creating workshops, writing about it and teaching young people. My spouse is a partner in my struggle. As a recovered person, it comes up less and less, and I have tools for when it does, but never goes away completely. Being pregnant has brought on an onslaught of attention to my growing body– eyes and comments– and I have had to recommit to the work. Food is good. My body is beautiful. I am supposed to be gaining weight. It’s good work, and I am happy to do it in hopes of breaking a generational cycle of disease. Kaya’s tweet, however, challenged me. Why is it that I am willing to work and fight so hard to break this cycle and not others? What diseases do we choose to work toward dismantling? What would happen if I were to work that hard in my daily life to break the cycle of racism for my child?

In “Heart of Whiteness,” Tobias Wolff writes:

But look: most of us still live in enclaves. As much as the country has changed since I was young, this has not. Though more and more we work together, learn together, bear arms together, we mostly go home to separate worlds and bring up our children in separate worlds, either by intention or cultural habit or simply as a consequence of economic and class divisions. And if we ourselves never say a slighting word about those others or smile in a certain way at the dramatic fulfillment of a stereotype, our children, living in our world, will still see and hear such things and be touched by them….Here are some race cards: our country has the highest incarceration rate in the world—and young black men have an incarceration rate six times that of young white men.

And so we pass on racism to the next generation like a disease. We live in separate worlds. Refusing to be actively racist is not enough. Like Wolff goes on to write, I have read books and taught units and shown up at rallies that do work toward breaking down race hatred. But do I fight daily? Do I fight as hard as I have over the years to break the eating disorder cycle? No. Omission will not fight off the generational residue. If I am not actively pursing anti-racism, the default will prevail. Separate worlds speaks volumes in the silence.

On his blog, Clint Schnekloth openly struggles with what he should do as a white man in like of Ferguson. He says, “Allies walk a fine line with paternalism.” True. But he ends by presenting a few action steps that he believes will work toward breaking the cycle of the disease:

1) Realize that anything you believe you know about race, immigrants, or mental health is colored by your subjective experience. You don’t know what you don’t know.

2) To gain understanding, engage in love of neighbor, the next step is to “subject” yourself to the truth of the other, especially the truth of oppressed or marginalized communities, to listen to them and trust that their experience is also true and valid even if it isn’t your experience. In fact you may need to accept the possibility that their truth is MORE true than your truth.

3) Do the hard work of discovering the intersubjective truth that lies between you and the other whose truth is different than yours.

The Catholic Catechism states that racism is a sin against justice and a violation of human dignity (1935). As people of faith, it is our collective work to tend to the injustice so what we pass on to the next generation brings hope for God’s renewal and grace and creates space for human dignity to rule. I do want my child to love its body and food more than I have over the years, to know physical happiness and health in a whole new, unrestricted way. I also want my child to love all people and know a world without enclaves and human made boundaries and race violence. And if this is truly my wish, then it must also become my work.

Gospel Reflection for August 24, 2014, 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

20 Aug
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Matthew 16.13


What are people saying about me?  Jesus’ question is a brave one.  It’s a great interview question for potential employees.  What do your colleagues or clients say about you?  What are you proud that they say about you?

Jesus’ question to his first disciples echoes down the centuries.  Who do we say Jesus is?  A prophetic reformer who hopes to breathe life into the legalistic religion of his day?  A revolutionary whose incendiary preaching catches him in the crushing gears of empire?  Is he the greatest party giver ever who invites everyone to come to his banquets?  Is Jesus the omega point in whom all creation will converge?

What do people say about you that indicates they see you are a Christian?

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Faith Today

20 Aug

There are days when I feel more connected to the collective conscious of people. It’s like my heart is connected to other hearts, known and unknown by a string, and the string is getting tugged on and saturated with grieving and pain.On those days, my heart feels heavy, and I get overwhelmed.

Today is one of those days. A dear friend is grieving the end of a marriage. Another is grieving the loss of a life after a miscarriage. A mother gets diagnosed with breast cancer. A high schooler falls unconscious at football practice and is rushed to the ICU. And somehow, the pain of these people I know and love makes me vulnerable. The floodgates open and in rushes the pain of Furguson, of violence against women, of depression, of brokenness in our systems of education and incarceration, and on and on.

Days like today require faith.

I have to dig deeper to find the words, the prayer, the belief. It’s not on the surface waiting for me. The truth is so simple, yet it is hard to grasp. “God’s mercy and compassion is not like the compassion of humankind. Humankind favors men over women, white over black, well over sick, strong over weak. God is not like that. God’s unbound love extends to us all.” When I do find the words and utter them, not all of me believes it. It sounds shaky and shallow and unsure in my throat.

Yet this is faith– to utter hopeful truth about a God that is beyond human understanding on the dark days. It is more important to utter with a shaky voice on the dark days than to sing confidently on the days that are bright and hope comes easily. It is an act of faith to have hope on these dark days, to try our shaky voices, and to keep believing in spite of evidence otherwise, that a good God wants to work with us to create a world of justice and peace, full of healing and reconciliation, where all people are free. Dorthy Day reminds us we cannot have the audacity to hope if we are not willing to do the work of implementing God’s compassionate vision of “on earth as it is in heaven.” The uttering calls us forth to action, which reinforces hope.

On our dark days, it takes faith to choose not to wallow in only what is, but to look harder and see what ought to be. It takes faith to believe that God is not satisfied with how it is today. Broken and hopeful, it is an act of faith to claim and live into the love of God that surpasses human compassion.

Pope Francis’ Nudge Toward Happiness

13 Aug

At the end of July, Pope Francis did an interview with “Viva” in Argentina. From that interview, Catholic News Service then published a story about Pope Francis’ top ten tips toward happiness. In very Pope Francis style, there were profound in their simplicity. They were relational and down to earth and refreshing. They also clearly drew on the seven tenants of Catholic Social Teaching.

He encouraged things like fighting becoming egocentric through generosity. “Live and let live.” Letting go of negativity in the name of becoming healthy made the list. By ending being negative about other people, showing our own low self-esteem, we can find more happiness. Moving through life calmly, “with kindness and humility,” like a pool of water. Other tips included combating the stress of consumerism by celebrating leisure with art, playing with your family, turning off the TV and choosing literature. He highlighted the Sabbath by urging Sunday to be a day for family, a holiday. He held up the dignity of work by urging us to create good jobs for young people. Young people need opportunity and labor to give them hope. Love of nature, for the Pope, is tied to happiness. He said, “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'” In this time of war, we must work for peace. He does not mean being quiet, but being proactive and dynamic in our work for peace. “The call for peace must be shouted.” And finally, he stated strongly “But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes.” Instead, the Pope calls for respecting others’ beliefs, witnessing, communicating and making dialogue that attracts.

Since the interview, the Catholic News Service write up has gotten some serious traction. I overheard a conversation about the Pope where one young person said to the other, “Wow, that man is a serious force for PR in the Catholic Church right now.” A recent college graduate said to me, “How about that Franny huh? You know, if he asked me to come back to the Catholic Church, I think I would.” Pope Francis is speaking truth from his position of power in a way that people are ready for and open to receiving. Young people who were kids during 9/11 are now coming of age to see fighting all over the world in places like Gaza and Nigeria, often in the name of religion. So when the Pope calls for an end to proselytism and a recommitment to shouting for peace, young people, who are often skeptical of the hypocrisy and violence tied to organized religion, perk up a bit. These are the same young people struggling to find meaningful work after the recession as college tuition skyrockets. They are the same young people who started know about bullying over social media and have to navigate screen time and bombardment of marketing messages through media. What Pope Francis is saying is striking a cord and resonating and seeming to make a whole lot of sense to people young and old alike.

In his relevance, he is living exactly what he said about proselytism. He is creating curiosity and witnessing to others with his words and actions. He is encouraging dialogue and making himself approachable and attractive as the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. The way he is posturing himself with power is inviting others to relax, lean in and listen a little closer. I have seen less defensiveness about and combativeness toward the Catholic Church since he became Pope. In a time of serious religious strife around the world, we may do well to take his ten tips toward happiness quite seriously.

 

Gospel Reflection for August 17, 2014, 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

12 Aug

“It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Matthew 15.26

 

Perhaps it is the rudeness of Jesus’ words that impels Matthew to edit Mark’s earlier version of this story.  Matthew provides a reason for Jesus’ refusal to help this Gentile woman, whose daughter is tormented by a demon.  Jesus’ mission is solely “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Matthew also makes the woman clearly a believer.  She addresses Jesus as messiah, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” Her faith is the reason Jesus frees her daughter and includes her in his mission.  Matthew makes specific that the table from which the woman seeks crumbs is the messiah or master’s table.

In Mark the woman sasses back when Jesus refuses to free her daughter of an unclean spirit and refers to her as a Gentile dog.  The woman says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  It is for saying that Jesus frees her daughter.

She counters the prejudice against her with the truth of her experience.  Unlike Jews for whom dogs were unclean, this Gentile woman has dogs as well as children at her table.  Her comeback makes space for all.

What boundaries or prejudices have you encountered and broken down?

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Diary from the Border: CSJs serving in El Paso

11 Aug

GoodGroundPress:

Jesus reaches beyond his own people in the Gospel for August 17, Matthew 15.21-28. He first refuses and then frees a Gentile woman’s daughter of a demon and opens a future for the child. Our own southern borders galvanize hostilities in some and empathy in others. Several of our Sisters of St Joseph are at the border working with the children seeking entry to our country. For a firsthand account, read their blogs from the borders.

Originally posted on an unfinished world:

BERRESHEIM,IDA

Sister Ida Berresheim

STRAUB,SANDRA

Sister Sandra Straub

“In our expression of mission, we commit ourselves: To share the stories and faces of those who live in poverty, are kept on the margins and are most affected by broken systems.”  Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

Two sisters in our St. Louis province have travelled to El Paso to serve the needs of the immigrants at the volunteers at the border. Sisters Ida Berresheim and Sandra Straub left last week and continue to update us on the situation and their experiences. Please follow their journey with us!

IN THE NEWS: See Sister Sandra on KSDK News Channel 5 St. Louis talking about her trip: “Nun heads to Texas to Help Immigrants.”

 Sister Sandra’s Diary, Saturday July 12, 2014

Off to the center we went, Pat and Fred and me.  Ida had many Housemothers chores to do!  And I mean many.  We are currently five…

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Gospel Reflection for August 10, 2014, 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

6 Aug

“Lord, if this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14.28

Two spiritual heroes walk with doubt and despair in Sunday’s scripture readings.  Both the apostle Peter and the prophet Elijah live and lead in unsettled times and experience questions we are asking today.  Where is God in this mess?  Where is Jesus in this cross wind?

When Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea near his boat, he puts Jesus to a test.  “If this is really you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus says, “Come.”  Stepping into the water and the future requires faith for Peter and all who follow.  Boldly Peter steps out of the boat, outside the comfortable circle of friends and disciples.  Immediately strong head winds and great waves frighten Peter and he falters, crying out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus reaches out his hand.

Where are you in over your head?  What are you crying out about? 

Marry Amazement, Take the World Into Your Arms

5 Aug

I was sitting at my writing desk when I received a dreadful text from a student, “Have you heard?” I have a few students who somehow know and remember and care that I am not on Facebook. When important news travels through this medium, they take a moment to reach out to me and make sure I am welcomed into the circle of knowing. It’s rarely good news, and this time was no exception. One of my beloved former students died accidentally and unexpectedly at age twenty-one. A second student emailed, a third called, “Have you heard?”

A parent losing a child is a great tragedy. It does not match the order of things. As a teacher, I have lost too many students. It is shocking beyond words. I struggle with how to properly grieve such a loss. I do not see her regularly anymore, but I spent four years watching her grow. I advised her and we learned together. She was lovely, a fierce change agent with progressive environmental views and a huge brain. My thoughts wander from memories of her to her parents and siblings.

A few days after receiving the news, a woman leading devotions at a separate community gave me the gift of reading Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes.” After describing death a “hungry bear in autumn” and “an ice burg between the shoulder blades” she says that when death comes:

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

I imagine this young woman walking through the door of death with curiosity. I remember how she looked at the Earth and her friends as a sisterhood. I see her as a singular flower in a wild field. She did live her life. I watched her. As a student, a musician, an environmentalist– I saw her married to amazement all the time. She died too soon. She did. The poem does not take away the pain and the loss we feel. Nothing will. As the years pass, we will never get over the fact that she should still be here with us, pushing us to take the world into our arms, too. But her life was real and particular. She was far from a visitor. So I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Oliver lately, committed to amazement and courage and preciousness.

Encounter

1 Aug

The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!” (cf. Mk 16:15). . . In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others. . . with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter”, a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith. They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. Going out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position. (5/18/13) –Pope Francis

I just got back in from stepping out. To go where? The outskirts, the world. To do what? Encounter. I took a lovely group of high school students up to Ely, then out to the wilderness of the Boundary Waters for ten days. In Ely they were stripped of their cell phones, watched as they packed just two pairs of pants and two shirts and two pairs of shoes- one wet and one dry set. They did not know exactly where they were going, or what their next meal would be. They got vulnerable fast. Some young people were thrilled, others were skeptical, but it didn’t take long on the water for them to marvel at the scenery, admire the clear water and get hushed at the sight of loons.

via flickr user Steve took it

via flickr user Steve took it

In Ely our big group split up into smaller groups of eight– two adults and six youth. Day after day we ate together over a fire we built ourselves, we slept wedged together in our tents, we switched up partners to chat with on the canoe while finding our paddling rhythm. We huddled together in the rain, pushed each other through long and technical portages, shared books and hammocks. We fished and played cards, hiked and created inside jokes. Napped. We encountered the Creator in the sunsets. We encountered our Creator in each other.

I had been waiting all year for this trip because I knew the conditions were ripe for encounter. It’s not every day that you get access to a high school student for six days with no technology and nowhere in particular to be and with work to be done and adventures to be had together. I had been trying my best to encounter these young people in fits and starts. In the wilderness, our time together was easy and light. It bound effortlessly. By then end of the week, there was deep recognition and respect between us. We all showed up– really showed up– to play and pray and work and rest together. There was nothing, and then there was something, and that something was very good.

When we returned to Ely, we showered and ate a great meal. We reunited with the other groups of eight and shared stories. And after a weekend of more physical labor as a service project, we got back on the bus to head home. We again had our cell phones and extra changes of clothes, but the ride home felt significantly different than the ride north. There was a comfort, a quiet, calm confidence in the group that can only be earned by stepping out into the world to encounter God and each other.

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