Tag Archives: compassion

Gospel Reflection for November 20, 2016, Christ the King

14 Nov

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 5.1-3; Colossians 1.12-20; Luke 23.35-43

“Jesus is the face of God’s mercy,” Pope Francis writes in announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy that ends this Sunday. “These words might well sum up the mystery of Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.” In Sunday’s gospel Jesus shows us mercy is his signature act; he forgives the good thief on the cross. Forgiveness is the balm of mercy that Pope Francis hopes has reached everyone this year.

In this crucifixion scene the evangelist Luke gives us the gospel in cameo. Luke tells the community for whom he writes and us that Jesus is God’s Spirit-filled prophet, innocent of charges brought against him. He brings good news to people who live in poverty and hope to those burdened with debt and exploited for profit. Jesus is our kin, who knows our sufferings and seeks to heal people and set them free. This is the mission we continue — kinship or solidarity with all.

To whom have you yet to show mercy in this year of mercy? Who among the kin of God or kin of Jesus stretches who you regard as kin?

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Dying Well

11 Nov
Bruce Kramer

Bruce Kramer

I know Bruce Kramer only through his blog Dis Ease Diary about living with and dying from ALS. A profoundly wise man, Bruce died of ALS in 2015. In his writing, he wanted to ask questions in a way that united people. What a worthy endeavor. When I heard Cathy Wurzer was speaking about her relationship with Bruce and their book project, We Know How This Ends on All Saints’ Day, I knew I had to go. His spirit filled the sanctuary as Wurzer projected pictures and played audio of Bruce.

In choosing to die well, Bruce continues to teach us so much about how to live well. Bruce claimed that ALS was the greatest teacher of his life. It helped him become the man he was meant to be. He invited those around him to be vulnerable, to stay present in the day, and to cut straight through to love. In so doing, he got to know people on a different level and at a different depth, which changed his life.

Through adaptive yoga, he learned how to breathe and ground himself even at the very end. He was able to forgive his body for dying like it was supposed to do, just faster than he would’ve liked. One son stayed connected to Bruce through yoga, another came three times a week to shave his face with a straight blade, an intimate interaction. Bruce recorded himself reading children’s books so his grandchildren could hear his voice after he was gone. He took full advantage of the time he was given at the end. He allowed death to focus his life. The title of Bruce Kramer’s book comes from a line he repeated a lot after his diagnosis: “We’re all headed to the same place.” Indeed. Death opened his eyes to how precious life is, and he never stopped growing.

Wurzer grew close to Kramer over the years of interviews. He required it, actually. When they started working together he asked her, “Will you be here in the end, when I die?” She kept her word and got her buddies at NPR to play one of his favorite pieces on classical radio as he was taking his last breaths. When her colleague asked her in the aftermath, “What do you make it all?” She answered, “I think I gave grace a microphone.”

As the poignant evening came to a close, Wurzer projected a Peanuts cartoon with two characters sitting on a dock. One says, “Some day we will all die.” The other says, “True, but on all the other days we will not.” This is the gift of All Saints’ Day. There is grieving, loss and sorrow, but also great joy. I am alive today and living better in part because Bruce Kramer, faced with a horrible fate, committed to dying well.

 

Gospel Reflection for November 13, 2016, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time

9 Nov

Sunday Readings: Malachi 3.19-20; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-12; Luke 21.5-19

“By patient endurance you will save your lives.” – Luke 21.19

In the face of war (Syria, Afghanistan), earthquakes (Oklahoma after fracking), and plagues (Zika virus)–all the regular stuff of breaking news, Jesus recommends patient endurance. Persevere. Jesus has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone beside themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away storm damage. Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgives, include, speak the trust, listen, learn, build, rejoice, show compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand. As Hillary Clinton directed her supporters in her concession speech, quoting Galatians 6.9, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not give up.”

Faith is not certainty in the face of terrifying events. But it is trust that no other than Jesus, who passed through death to life, offers words of eternal life. Faith in Jesus is our deepest anchor and surest model for enduring the shifts and swells of social and personal upheaval.
 
What would you like to be caught doing in the midst of a crisis? How might you make today a non-judgment day?

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Bodies Broken Open to Love

28 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Ian Britton

Photo via Flickr user Ian Britton

I am in my last two months of pregnancy. My body no longer belongs to me. The baby who has taken up residence in my womb the past months is making him or herself known in a whole new way. I will be perpetually uncomfortable, absorbing internal blows, adjusting to weight gain, rubbing sore feet, hips and shoulder blades. I will only sleep, I will be only as active as the baby allows. Someone else is calling the shots. All I can do is wait.

I have a joyful little boy running around, reminding me exactly how worth it the third trimester of pregnancy is. This resident alien is a person who I will fall deeply in love with and be in constant awe of. It will be the deepest honor to the its mommy. I keep reminding myself. It helps. It also helps that I know the pain and discomfort are productive, the consequences of generating life. Suffering that is a part of life and love make us better people in the end.

The temporary powerlessness of late pregnancy brings with it great compassion. Knowing that the pain and discomfort are in the service of life, I welcome the opportunity to be broken. It is good, for a season, that I don’t get my way. It keeps me from aligning myself as the center of the universe. This world is not about me. It invites me to contemplate people whose bodies are broken and not their own due to illness, abuse, or poverty, things that don’t bring life and love.

To bear another life in my body is messy. It’s beautiful. It’s annoying. It, maybe more than anything, teaches me about love.

Last week I had a conversation with a 7th grade boy about how we turn images of an angry God into images of a loving God. “What stories can you think of that show God as a lover?”

After a long pause he said simply, profoundly, “The crucifixion.” I took a moment to let the unexpected wisdom of this young man sink in and then asked him to say more. “God became a person, and that person, God’s son, died so that we could live. That’s love.”

Yes. On the cross, Jesus takes our broken humanity into his very body and dies a human death with all the pain, suffering and abandonment that comes with that. In do doing, he offers us his divinity so that we may know life. God points to this act on the cross and declares Jesus Lord. The cross is mess, beautiful, and teaches us about love. Life wins. Love has the final word.

This simple reminder that the cross is the true sign of God’s love was a gift to me as I waddle through my remaining days of pregnancy. May my manageable, baby-growing discomfort break me open to love better and may it invite me to contemplate the mystery of God’s love through the cross.

 

Mother, Now Saint

9 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

A mere 19 years after her death, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint last week. In his homily during the ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis commended Mother Teresa for her generosity of mercy and for defending the discarded of society.

Indeed, in her tireless work, Mother Teresa gave people dignity by seeing their full humanity. She called urgent attention to the hideous and unnecessary poverty plaguing our globe. Taking Jesus’ gospel call to advocate for the poor quite literally, she devoted her life to the daily work. Rightly, Pope Francis lifted up Mother Teresa as a model of holiness.

And then, also rightly and with so much style we have come to expect of him, Pope Francis served pizza to 1,500 homeless Italians who were bused in for the event.

The declaration of Mother Teresa’s sainthood is exciting. In elevating our heroes, it is also important to remember their humanity as well. I can distance myself from them, venerating their holiness, while excusing myself from the call. We are all capable of making a life-long commitment to advocate for the vulnerable members of our society. I read the same Gospel that she did, one where Jesus models mercy, compassion and ministry to us. She was a mere mortal who had the same choice I do as to how to live out our daily lives.

I remember as a young child, being taught by nuns, I was curious about the monastic lifestyle. I wondered, “What would I do with my time if I committed to a simple, celibate life? What life would I build? Who would I love?” Now, with a spouse, children and a job, I must ask other questions. Mother Teresa’s sainthood throws back into relief for me the importance of doing Gospel work in my daily life, here and now, in any way I can. Instead of allowing her holiness to distance herself, I can pray for her holiness to call me to a life of mercy and compassion, too.

Gospel Reflection for August 28, 2016, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Sunday Readings: Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24; Luke 14.1, 7-14

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

(Luke 14.12-13)

Jesus’ two healings on the Sabbath demonstrate God’s will for human beings. We read neither story among the Sunday gospels. Jesus straightens up a woman who for 18 years has been bent over in Luke 13.10-17 and heals a moan with dropsy (14.2-6). He restores them to praise and worship rather than leaving them among the forgotten whom God supposedly punishes. In his advice for making guest lists, Jesus prefers those who cannot repay their hosts with a return invitation and place of honor at their tables. Jesus wants us to widen the circle of those who eat at our tables to include people like the two he has just healed. He wants our guest lists to distribute food justly rather than cut people off as chronically inferior, deserving distance from us rather than place among us.

What places of honor might you give up? What would you lose or gain? Who might you add to your guest list? What would you lose or gain?

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Neighbors on the Path

19 Aug

It isn’t a new lesson, but it is one I have to keep revisiting. The Good Samaritan. One man in Jesus’ parable saw the humanity of the man on the side of the road naked and broken. One man stopped. One man did what it took to ensure the victim’s full restoration. It seems so elementary, but I have so much trouble following his example.

Jesus tells this parable to a man trying to find a loophole and get around the law. When he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds, with the story of the good Samaritan, essentially saying, “Your neighbor is anyone who has been put in your path.”

We, too, are challenged by Jesus’ ministry and this parable specifically to see the humanity of all people put in our path. We are called to stop, let others change our plans, let the urgency of restoration work shape our days.

It is no easy calling. Jesus is asking us to get our hands dirty. He is asking us to move into the heart of conflict. This may risk our reputation, our schedule, and the ease of our known lives. It is often our busyness, our vanity and our fear of conflict that holds us back from acting like Jesus and the good Samaritan. I am guilty of all three, so I must revisit this parable again and again.

Really knowing our neighbors, the people in our path, requires seeing and stopping. That is often the hardest part. If we do engage with unexpected neighbors, like the good Samaritan did, like Jesus did, then we are often filled with the compassion necessary to move toward creative and effective reconciliation work. So this week, yet again, I pray for the courage to be open and willing to fully engage with all of my neighbors.

Waging Peace

29 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Bruce Fingerhood

Photo via Flickr user Bruce Fingerhood

Do you hear the cries for peace? The longing is so urgent and real. It is easy to think of peace a simply a lack of violence. God’s vision of peace, however, is more beautiful than that and requires more of us than simply putting our weapons down.

What is God’s vision of peace? There are two biblical images in particular I have been meditating on:

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not raise its sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more.          –Ish 2:4

and

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity, enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees, for there will be nothing to fear.       –Micah 4:4

I love the visuals that come with these images of peace. One person taking a weapon and making it into a tool that will help bring forth food, abundance and life. Or another person, enjoying the shade of a tree that bears fruit. This biblical idea of peace, coming from the word shalom, is not just lack of violence. This is a peace that gets at the holistic well being of all persons. It is a peace that claims that access to food, safety and leisure time bring human dignity and should be available to all.

These images of shalom remind me of a statue I saw in El Salvador, a beautiful and hopeful piece of art made from melted down bullets used in their civil war. Tools for violence turned into art. It makes me think of organizations working with farmers to create more secure food options for families and communities all around the world.

I yearn for shalom. I pray for a time when we can put down our weapons because we are no longer afraid. I beg for an age when we can all sit in the shade of prosperity without fear. Shalom will only come when all people have enough, when the most vulnerable in our communities are seen and tended to as God’s beloved children. Peace is tied to being committed to the well being of all. Shalom requires us to believe that we can glimpse heaven here and now and engage in God’s work of reconciliation in this life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, those who do not just think about it, but build their lives around waging peace. Peacemaking is a vocation Jesus calls us to. This shalom peace is not just a lack of violence, but a commitment to the holistic well being of all God’s beloved creatures. And God’s creatures are crying out for peace.

Image 9 Jul

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