Bishop Robert Barron wrote this morning about the readings from Chrism Mass — which are among my favorites — really useable and applicable anywhere throughout the life of a Christian. And it’s also the gospel associated with one of my favorite homilies from Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento. This will be a hard Triduum for them, I think.
Barron notes that Jesus allows himself to be seized and animated. In many ways — but in this gospel he is seized and animated by the Holy Spirit in the synagogue. We will remember later tonight when he allows himself to be seized and animated — right up to the cross — by the Jews, by the Romans, by my own sins and the sins of the whole world.
I desire — but with some fear — to allow myself to be seized and animated by the person of Jesus. By the Holy Spirit. By my God Himself.
What motivated Jesus — propelled him — guided him towards that seizure and animation is his family. His church of the home. His domestic church. How do we know? Because we know he approached the synagogue on the sabbath day according to his custom.
He worked his ministry into the custom that flows out of the family. His family. His town. His grocery store and gas station. Whatever Jesus’ church of the home looked like — it led him to worship. And worship sent him to ministry and service. Seizure and animation.
It’s supposed to be the same for me. For us.
Pope Francis breaks this idea of propelled outward to the community a little more in detail in his homily at Chrism Mass this morning. He opens up the willingness of Jesus to discern, listen, and live his vocation. THE vocation.
Jesus finds the passage and reads it with the proficiency of a scribe. He could have been a scribe or a doctor of the law, but he wanted to be an “evangelizer”, a street preacher, the “bearer of joyful news” for his people, the preacher whose feet are beautiful, as Isaiah says. The Preacher is always close.
This is God’s great choice: the Lord chose to be close to his people. Thirty years of hidden life! Only then did he begin his preaching. Here we see the pedagogy of the Incarnation, a pedagogy of inculturation, not only in foreign cultures but also in our own parishes, in the new culture of young people…
Closeness is more than the name of a specific virtue; it is an attitude that engages the whole person, our way of relating, our way of being attentive both to ourselves and to others… When people say of a priest, “he is close to us”, they usually mean two things. The first is that “he is always there” (as opposed to never being there: in that case, they always begin by saying, “Father, I know you are very busy…”). The other is that he has a word for everyone. “He talks to everybody”, they say, with adults and children alike, with the poor, with those who do not believe… Priests who are “close”, available, priests who are there for people, who talk to everyone… street priests.
Pope Francis goes on to identify for both clergy and for the rest of the laity the importance of closeness to each other. Intimacy in the example of Jesus. His love wasn’t blind or simply obedient. He knew each of his disciples. Each of his friends. Each of the people he encountered. Jesus never accepts a label in place of a story. He knows their stories — whether or not we know the great kerygma of His Story.
And his love for us through his availability to the Father and the Holy Spirit to be close…be intimate…know us before the creation of all things…is what leads him to seizure and animation.
I feel dizzy with your presence, Jesus. I am challenged to consider what it really is that motivates me in my baptismal priesthood towards search, seizure, animation, proclamation of the kerygma, and missionary zeal.
Help me be brave during these days, Lord. Help me remember that this is a time of passion and challenge as much as it is about triumph and victory.
Because I know how the story ends. But I desire to journey with you. To be seized alongside you. To be animated in you. To be cut to the heart by your love.
The broken alabaster jar.
The anointing with spikenard.
The waste of perfumed oil.
I wonder if this is ever how God feels when He considers how we behave sometimes.
But we know He doesn’t.
Jesus is the jar broken open.
The blood spilled.
He who is precious yet wasted — but not according to God — on us.
Just like the woman — Jesus willingly breaks Himself open for my salvation.
Even when — with great enthusiasm — I quickly and wastefully turn from HOSANNA! to Crucify him!
Help me Jesus, to accompany you this week. Give me Simon of Cyrene’s resolve, if not his heart. I desire to encounter You.
Also, I am curious:
Could Simon the Leper in this Mark 14 possibly be the leper Jesus healed in Mark 1?
This gospel is contains my 2nd and 3rd favorite lines in all of scripture.
v27: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe…”
Martha, who — the last time we saw her was caught up in housework (#MarthaMarthaMartha) — makes this bold declaration and confession of faith — about who Jesus is. To her. And also to me.
And she starts with what seems to be a phrase with some extra words: “I have come to believe…”
Why doesn’t she just say what we say every week?
I believe in one God, the Father, the almighty…
Cut to the chase, Martha.
Find an editor.
[n.b. — Peter will use the same curious phrase later in the gospels.]
The names for Jesus are important. Believing is important. But I think the primary word in that sentence is not that she believes. Or even what she believes. It is first and foremost — that she has come.
The derivation and etymology of the verb to come refers to “movement with the purpose of reaching.”
That suggests motion. A journey. A pilgrimage. Even a short one. Maybe just advancing your spiritual self 1 spot. But there is definitive motion. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are always in motion. And they call me to join them.
To come with a purpose. With an openness. A sense of that there is more than what I see or experience. A humility and smallness in the understanding that I am never done getting to know God through the person of Jesus. That I will never not be called to encounter Him more deeply and intimate than where I am standing right now.
I have to come before I can do anything else. Including believe.
And though I may be afraid of who or what I have become. Whether God can smell my stinky sin. Or can see that I am bound by the things of this world — I must come. I may be surprised at what God reveals through whatever Jesus says to me — it is about a unity of mind and heart — a recognition that there is more. That I am more. That Jesus is more.
So I cannot stand still. I might not know what I will find when I take that next step. What He will ask me. Where it will take me.
We say and sing all the time about *drawing near* to Jesus. In prayer. In sacraments. In the Eucharist. Don’t forget about in person. Especially in the poor.
I desire to draw near.
I have to move.
My purpose is to believe.
And so I must reach Jesus.
Martha has had a journey to arrive at her belief. It doesn’t happen overnight. She has encountered and re-encountered Jesus many times and under many different circumstances. Sometimes in the foreground and sometimes in the background. Sometimes in the kitchen, and sometimes on the road. Once at the cross — and twice — at the tomb.
But once we have an authentic encounter with the person of Jesus — we cannot stop. We will never have enough. We will always desire to be closer. And my thirsting for God is nothing compared to His thirsting for me.
And even here — Jesus always gives us back to our community first. Mary and Martha are actually the ones who join the Woman at the Well and the Man Born Blind — for without their brother — presuming he was their only male relative — they would have been sold into slavery.
And Lazarus is going to have quite a time of things too. What will he say to his friends when he shows up at the coffee shop on Monday morning? Think about it. Lazarus is immediately placed into a role of evangelist. He cannot NOT tell his story!
We have a wild God — whose plan for us is way bigger than that for ourselves.
This weekend as I recite the Creed — may I dare to whisper in my heart:
I have come to believe in one God; the Father, the almighty…
The pilgrimage doesn’t end. There is always more I can know.
Been There Done That…are the lyrics of the song playing in the place I am writing…it’s a terrible techno song and I have no idea who sings it…but I’ll bet this would be a good soundtrack to lay under the gospel scene this weekend.
Blind beggars by the road or temple area — Been There Done That
Snarky Pharisees — Been There Done That
Men claiming to be prophets — Been There Done That
Spitting and mud and healing…maybe not.
It occurs to me the geographical path — pilgrimage if you will — of the story this unnamed blind man takes is pretty involved:
The place where he encounters Jesus
To the pool of Siloam
Back to the original spot
To the Pharisees
To the parents (actually they were summoned)
And then he is summoned in and out
And then Jesus comes back and finds him
That’s a lot of traveling for someone who has only been able to see for like 5 minutes.
It reminds me of Jesus’ journey back and forth between officials and trials on the day he dies. In fact, it feels like a mirror image. Although the most details and the addition of being sent to and from the Sanhedrin, and Annas, and Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, and back to Pilate is found only in Luke’s gospel (not John’s — which is what I was sort of hoping…) — we know that Jesus stands mostly silent — allowing His conviction of unconditional Mercy and Love for us to convict Him in the end. And we need this to happen: “…so the works of God might be made visible through [H]im.”
This is the inversion of the Man Born Blind — who also gets sent all over the place and actually — I only noticed this this year — really develops his defense…his apologetics…his testimony right here over the course of the story. This is what my life is supposed to be about. Telling the story of Jesus in my life to others. Sometimes on demand and sometimes unsolicited. And while I will spend most of my life wasting time and occasionally working on my craft, this guy gets pretty far all in one day.
I went back and actually counted how many times in one story he has to witness to all the people who question and challenge him: it’s 7 times. An interesting choice, John. And if you read those pieces carefully — this Unnamed Evangelist gets better, stronger, and more bold in his personal kerygma — his story of his personal encounter with Jesus — as the story goes on.
I will be lucky to be able to get my proclamation of the great story of Jesus — together over the course of my life. And I will be bad at it. And I will struggle with courage. And timing. And pride. And arrogance.
This guy had it together in 1 day. And if I am truthful with myself — that’s really how it’s done.
Like the Woman at the Well — an encounter with God through the person of Jesus changes my personal trajectory immediately. And permanently. It’s an about-face. A stopping short. A turning around. A cut-and-run. A bold challenge to authority. It’s shocking. Dangerous. Outrageous. Scandalous.
Like marrying a woman already pregnant. Like escaping to Egypt. And lots more.
And telling the story of Jesus very rarely ends without a casting out of some sort. Including Jesus Himself. There are consequences for telling the truth. This guy is now restored and can see, but with presumably no life skills and no connection to work outside of begging — which he can’t do anymore.
It might occur to an observer that Jesus has left this guy in worse shape than he found him — but that would be incorrect…so we have to *look* a little closer:
The man’s great gift and skill — is his story — his personal encounter with Jesus — and he already has the experience of depending upon the sympathy and charity of others. Except now he knows it’s really God’s Providence. I like to imagine he takes his show on the road and is able to survive using both his old skills of trust and stewardship and his new charism of evangelization. Because God never sends us anywhere without exactly what we need to succeed for His glory. We don’t always like where we are sent or to whom — but I must believe — in the words of a very wise evangelist in my life — that God’s Timing is perfect for my salvation. Mine. Not others.
Jesus’ curing of this man prefigures lots of things about himself, I think. But this year — I am inspired by the Unnamed Evangelist’s immediate pilgrimage along the thresholds to intentional discipleship. And we know this by his bold and delightfully developing desire to tell his story, identify Jesus, and bring others with him regardless of what it costs.
So — I must work on my craft.
Been There Done That — but I can totally do better. 🙂
Maybe there are more important lines. But that’s my favorite. It reminds me of my perpetual marching orders. And this is the weekend — in my parish — who will be welcoming new members in sacraments of initiation at Easter Vigil this year — to hear my favorite line.
The woman at the well is a reminder to us that Jesus doesn’t come for the faithful – he comes for the unbaptized, the uninformed, and the unknowing. And he doesn’t come to judge – he comes to us to be in an authentic relationship — first. He wants to know us personally, intimately. We are reminded that no matter how much we think we know – we are never finished getting to know God through the person of Jesus. There is always more that we can know. And sometimes we have to be both courageous enough – and humble enough – to listen to the truth about who we have become – and leave our water jar behind to begin again. It’s not a think-about-it-sort of thing. It’s immediate. Reckless. Scandalous. A sharp 180-degree turn. The woman left her water jar…and really her whole life behind and risked everything to announce the gospel to a community who had already rejected her — after just one encounter with Jesus. They hadn’t broken her. Or perhaps her brokenness is why Jesus picked her. Jesus always chooses the underdog. The least prepared. The violently outcast. The most forgotten. He first takes care for the woman’s human needs — relationship and belonging. Then she is open to having her spiritual needs met — and Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah to her — an affirmation of both her dignity AND as a herald of the gospel — and then gives her a task.
Go get ‘em, girl!
What am I willing to risk to encounter Jesus? What is the real human need I need fulfilled by God before my spiritual needs can truly be met? What do I have to leave behind in order to announce the gospel to my community? Who am I afraid won’t listen to me? Or won’t give me credibility? Or won’t believe me when I make known the faith my heart yearns to share?
[I know…it’s been a long time…and even this is something I wrote a month ago…]
I know that because I am feeling lost and disconnected here that everything will whisper of authenticity, intimacy, and relationship: things that I think I am either missing, failing at, or absent in potentiality here.
And so the parable of the talents has new meaning for me.
I was instantly focused — while praying in a group that I find very difficult to pray with — and struck by the line about the master giving talents to his servants:
This would be unique to Jesus’ time. Servants were slaves. Property. Bought and sold. A relationship (a proper reciprocal relationship, suggesting some authentic understanding of dignity and intimacy) would have been unheard of.
This master seems to know something about them. I want to believe this means he gives some thought to how he assigns their responsibilities. I want to believe the master desires certainly to make a profit and to have his precious money properly stewarded while he is away — but that would also suggest that in order for that to be true he would also seek to set up those servants for success. He doesn’t want them to fail: failure for them means less yield for him. Again — I could be off the reservation here, but I think there is more proof (at least in this translation) as we go on.
When the master returns after a long time, I can hear my own voice in that of the first 2 servants as well as the third servant.
If you read it out loud (and once more, with feeling), it feels like servants #1 and #2 are excited to show their master what they have done! I feel this way when I am in right relationship with authority: my boss, my family, friends, my parish community, my diocese, and God. I am so excited and proud to do a good job at something that makes an impact, that pleases my boss or whoever is a steward of me, and not because I know I will receive more in return — although that happens — but because I desire to be in authentic intimate relationship with those who are in authority over me. I desire to make someone proud of me, pleased that they asked the right person, affirmed in their own stewardship and leadership, confident that God is the driving force of the team, excited to be Catholic, and willing to trust me or others with more. My role as the subject of another’s stewardship is just as important to their continuing affirmation and understanding of their own authority. It doesn’t make me a slave, or less than, or subservient. It doesn’t make me someone who bows and scrapes for attention or recognition. It makes me authentically submissive: under the same mission of my master or leader. A sharer in the big picture. A real worker in the vineyard. That I may merit to be a coheir to eternal life. I cannot imagine a better way to spend my life. Seriously.
I recognize the talents in this parable — also because of my own life right now — to be charisms. I completed the Catherine of Siena Called and Gifted Worship and interview recently and I feel certain that this is — for me right now — about precious gifts — given only to me — to be shared for the good of the world for God’s glory. They are worth more than millions. They are not to be buried. They are to be placed at the service of the world. They are to be not just given away, but traded with, as this gospel suggests. They will double and grow in yield only when we encounter the person of Jesus through others. God, my master, knows me intimately and authentically. He has given me charisms with me in mind. He and I and the world. To better bring people and myself to Him.
Historically, when I am in communion, in right relationship, and properly ordered towards service, I seem to be offered and asked to take on tasks that are clearly beyond my abilities. Almost without exception. And being willing and conscious about saying yes to such roles, tasks, work brings me great joy because I know that God will help me and I also know and feel certain that the taskmaster wants to bring out the best in me for the glory of God. Because he/she knows me. And knows God.
When I am not in communion with others however, even if my relationship with God seems to be okay…I seem to not be able to perform even simple tasks. Tasks I should be able to do. Tasks I have been successful at before. It frustrates me and those around me and this is evident.
This also happens more frequently when the taskmaster or person(s) stewarding me and my God-given gifts are not in authentic communion. This has been very true for me here.
And so I need to pay attention.
That 3rd servant has intimate knowledge of his master, and his master of him. He knows what he is supposed to do, I think.
But the relationship isn’t strong. Servant #3 is afraid. Authentic intimacy carries with it dignity and trust. It feels like the master has this — in current-day money — even 1 talent would be worth about 1.25 MILLION DOLLARS. This is still a precious and unique gift. So I don’t know what’s up with Servant #3.
Maybe he is too busy watching the other 2 servants and what they received and is jealous or nervous.
Maybe his relationship with the master is not authentic. Incomplete. Unclear. Maybe he is confusing the master’s demand for greatness — for anger or judgement or selfishness.
Maybe he doesn’t feel like there is authentic relationship. Intimacy. Love. Trust. I know that makes me nervous and less likely to take risks. I wonder how much work he has put into that relationship…because it doesn’t seem like he has been treated any differently than the other 2 servants. He has received a different talent, but still significant and precious.
Like Solanus Casey’s gifts. He had an authentic, intimate, and trusting relationship with God. And I will assume his superiors and those in authority over him had the same relationship with God. And therefore his authentic love and trust in his superiors who were placed in authority over him and to steward his gifts flowed out of that.
That’s how he was able to conquer pride and pain and do what he was being asked. And look at what God did with him. So if we apply this to the servants…
This suggests an intimate trust, love, and understanding on the part of the master. And if that’s true — then servant #3 is missing something. Is holding back. Is not seeing his gifts/charism/job clearly — or through the correct lens.
And I think that’s how he winds up in the darkness. The master has done his job; servant #3 has not.
One could go even further with this and suggest that the master has been affirmed in his relational ministry with the other servants by their excited show of success. Maybe that’s why his assessment of failure and consequences is so swift. He knows he is right. And he knows letting servant #3 off the hook is not in the best interest of servant #3 or the whole community.
And as one of my colleagues suggests from the chronicles of Narnia — some choose to go — and even to stay — in the darkness.
This also suggests something about what we are capable or disposed to in authentic and intimate relationships with God, Jesus, and others around us.
I’m struggling, Jesus. Help me know what to do. I am good at being Servant #1 and #2. I know that’s how You use me. I don’t want to be Servant #3. But I know I am not in right relationship with the person in authority over me. I’m not sure if that points to my own relationship with God or his. Or both.
There’s an airline that boards people by group instead of by seat. This is extraordinarily interesting — particularly in the age of online check-ins. Human behavior at its most curious. And I am reminded of this by the gospel this past weekend.
There’s a king, a son, and a wedding feast. And 3 groups of invited guests. Plus one.
The first group gets invited and doesn’t bother to come.
The second group gets invited and not only do they not bother to come — but they also kill the messengers/servants.
The third group gets invited and come to the wedding feast.
Then there’s the one guy who’s not dressed appropriately.
I read a pretty good commentary last week that broke it down pretty well:
Group #1: People who claim outward loyalty to the King, but whose inward actions are disloyal.
Group #2: People who claim outward loyalty, but inward and outward actions are disloyal. They take it a step further and actually offend the King directly by their treatment of his servants.
Group #3: People who claim outward loyalty and their inward actions reflect this in their showing up properly disposed and prepared. Although we are told they are “bad and good alike,” they do not seem to take issue with being the “3rd string.”
And then there’s *That Guy* — who shows up for the party — to eat, drink, and dance — but brings nothing to the table to give.
This could be applied to something as simple as going to Mass (although sometimes even that is not so simple…) or could be a challenge to evaluate our whole faith life and journey to see if we need a “rerouting.” Which group am I today?
And then there’s that airplane seating thing.
So when I am lucky enough to remember to check in online for my flight 24 hours in advance — I get to get on the plane and stow my carry-on luggage first. And naturally I choose either a window or aisle seat. Then the next group gets on board. They choose the other window and/or aisle seats. Then there’s group C. Poor group C. They forgot to check in until they got the airport. BOOOOO. Middle seats and snarkey comments from flight attendants (“you’re not choosing furniture…”) and long-distance relationships with their carry-ons.
And then there’s That Guy. The Last Guy. Maybe That Guy is a jerk — or maybe That Guy needs someone to help him. I had a rather astute parent once claim it was the rest of the community’s responsibility to get That Guy a wedding garment. I want to believe that That Guy needs to take responsibility for himself — but I would be wrong. I teach others to give — by giving everything I have away and holding nothing back.
Although I think the wedding feast does have some correlations with how we actually get on the plane, I think how we treat the people getting on after us — regardless of which group we’re in — is perhaps more poignant. And I think that has something to do with how long ago our last conversion was. Because faith formation is supposed to be lifelong, right? Conversion–Formation–Evangelization is a never-ending process…isn’t it? I’m always supposed to be in some version of one of those 3 stages…aren’t I? We don’t use those 3 words very often…do we?
I think most of us start out as Group A in terms of God and church. We are the first on the plane so there’s nobody there but the flight attendants — who are welcoming and encouraging. This is a little like our faith community should be. Ready to welcome us — but we need to get it together, get seated, and be ready to give the same welcome to the next group. Which only sort of happens. By the time Groups B and C join us — on a plane or in our faith community…we have become a little less than enthusiastic. Less eye contact. More looking somewhere else. Anywhere else than into someone’s eyes. And…I like my space…my world…my understanding of things…of Jesus…God…faith…religion…my traditions. New people or more people means the jig is up for me and my world. If I have to let you sit in my row — my reality changes. Has to get bigger. Broader. My groove is thrown off. My stuff is challenged.
And so I think I will give you a dirty look instead.
Especially if you’re trying to take the middle seat.
We are called to do better than this. On a plane…but especially in our Catholic Church. We are called by our baptism to Go. Make Disciples. That’s it. That’s all. 2 things. I haven’t stretched myself far enough or learned how to pray well enough or broken myself open and fully out of my self-seeking box in my service of Go. Make disciples — until I am hanging on a cross. And nobody has asked me to do that. Seriously.
Jesus would probably have been in all 3 groups:
Group A — Jesus is greeting flight attendants, taking a window seat, making eye contact and actually inviting others to sit in his row.
Group B — Jesus is probably taking the middle seat instead of the aisle — to make the third person to the row more comfortable as well as to get close to Window Seat Person and start an immediate conversation…Jesus is all about community.
Group C — Jesus is not only trying to make eye contact — but he is calling me by name, inviting me into the conversation. Challenging my unease and giving me the courage to see — to really see — the dignity of each person’s life, faith journey, and cross. When I am willing to look back at Jesus — I am also changed forever by the lives, faith journeys, and crosses of others. When I am brave enough to *encuentro* — encounter God’s people with authenticity and intimacy — I learn to desire the experience of accompaniment. Of journey. Of ushering another person and allowing another to usher, to travel with me.
And That Guy — Jesus is in That Guy too. Just to see how I’ll do.
We are called to challenge ourselves this week to take a closer look at:
Who are these groups in my life when it comes to my faith community?
Which group am I in?
How does this understanding affect how I treat others?
Again I am inspired this week by lots of people in lots of places to work a lot harder on my own humility and joy as I consider today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 20: 1-16a).
This week kicks off the next 3 weeks worth of vineyard parables. One of my favorite priests wrote me a card many years ago during a particularly challenging time in my life. It said simply, “When you work in God’s vineyard, sometimes you get killed.” I still have that card — and although I suspect that particular priest — in his great kindness — was attempting to use humor (and sarcasm) to get me to take whatever dramatic thing I was sure had happened to me — down a notch or two, that line has come to mean different things at different times to me. And I think of it every 3rd year…around this time. This Ordinary Time.
As I read ahead for the week, I came to the familiar self-righteousness that usually accompanies my reading of this parable — that I am of course among the first batch of workers hired. And then I watched Tom and Kimi Tomaszek’s “visio divina” of Between Sundays — a ministry of The Five Loaves. This is a great free resource that helps prepare me for the upcoming Sunday Gospel. It’s great because they always cause me to see simple things in a gentle way — that I’ve never thought of before. And this week it was a story about what it really means to work in a vineyard — something they have a little bit of experience at. And I’d never known some of the things one has to think about in picking grapes. It made me re-vision this gospel. Watch their “Visio Divina” here:
I could go on and on about how this makes me look at social justice, day laborers, and all sorts of other things based on what I learned from the Tomaszeks — but that’s another blog entry for another time.
Here’s what occurred to me:
1.) If I am among the first batch of workers hired — I am so busy whining and toiling and complaining about the heat, the conditions, the payment, the actual labor I am called to do — which is to joyfully make disciples — that I miss all kinds of grapes. I do not really *look* at what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t really pay attention sometimes. Grapes wither and die because I have missed them or skipped them. They fall on the ground and get trampled because I am careless and wish to be noticed and thanked or otherwise praised. Perhaps I have done the trampling myself. While I am busy and distracted and looking anywhere else — especially my watch — I miss the *encuentro.* The encounter. The joy of labor and work in light of what God has called me to do. I may have worked a full day for a full day’s wage — but I haven’t yielded all I can back to the vineyard owner. I haven’t used my gifts and skills to their full potential. And this wise vineyard owner has a deep understanding of what it means to work in a vineyard — so it seems like he is well aware that he will need to hire more workers to go back through and continue the harvest. Hence the hiring of the 9, 12, and 3 o’clock workers.
2.) If I am a 9, 12, or 3 o’clock worker — the above still applies — but the gospel isn’t specific about their attitude when payment comes. My guess is that they are mostly grateful and quiet. They know they haven’t been there since the beginning — so they probably feel like they lucked out a little bit — but are hopefully glad to be working and also glad that those crabby first-batch people aren’t complaining about them.
3.) The 5 o’clock workers…And really — this is an issue of God’s Timing. If I am honest with myself and consider those last workers hired — it is indeed possible that they didn’t show up to be hired until late in the day because they were doing something else. Or that they weren’t ready/prepared to work until late in the day because of another job. If I consider with humility that these workers perhaps had a very different sort of skill — some places call them gleaners — they needed to be able to really look and find the grapes that no one else had yet found. This is actually what God does. If Jesus had been hired that day — I bet he would have been in that 5pm shift. If you know anything about vintners or wine, it takes a good eye to be able to discern whether grapes that have been scorched by the sun, punctured, fallen, been trampled or have grown into the vines can even be used for harvest. Those last workers spent that last hour crawling around on the ground or bending down to pick up all variations of grapes that had been left behind, broken, or bypassed. Their necks probably would have been just as sunburned and their bodies just as tired as everyone else’s. Their work was different. But just as critical to the harvest.
So really — I’ve probably proven myself as one of the first batch hired. Congratulations. What is different now is that I am aware that God has to send a whole bunch of people back behind me to do what I have not done. To fix what I have done poorly. To pick up after me. To do the tasks that I have left undone.
And I must prayerfully and humbly remember that we are indeed talking about people. Not grapes.
In one more wrinkle — or nugget of truth — I spoke to a family member yesterday who works in a place that assists people who for one reason or another have not been able to re-enter the workforce. And we talked a little about God preparing each of us for a specific time and place in His Plan for our salvation. Our own personal salvation and that of others. On the outside it might look like someone is lazy, or unmotivated, or not good enough, smart enough, professional enough — whatever — but it is possible that God is preparing — maybe even saving — someone for exactly the right task, people, community, world, point in history — to do the most good.
So today’s response of those last workers — “No one has hired us,” meant something after that conversation. Was more significant to me given that I’ve never had a very hard time finding a job. We presume no one has hired them because they are not good workers. When in fact — they have been being prepared for this moment in this gospel in this time and place in history. Their skills are needed NOW. After the others. In response to the harvest that has already begun. That these very people who get looked down upon, tossed aside, overlooked — even by me in the very moments of the proclamation of the gospel — are EXACTLY the right people to be the last hired — because they know how to find truth and value in what has been left behind.
I’m not sure yet whether I desire to belong to the first group hired — and do a way better job than I have been doing — or whether I desire to develop the skills needed to be in that last group hired — the ones that God is depending on to finish up strong the work of the world as seen from his vineyard.
So — that priest is still right and his card is still true. When you work in the Lord’s vineyard — sometimes you do get killed. Some of us will actually be tasked with dying for the faith. But most of us are going to be asked to die unto ourselves. I believe I’m being asked this week to kill off my pride. Suffocate my ego. Give up my self-righteous attitude of entitlement. To praise. To payment. To recognition. All of it. Bring death to my worldly practice of consuming others and instead give myself up to be consumed by others in joyful and loving service. Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo wrote of himself, “I am poor, a poor nothing.”
Help me Lord, this week, to become a poor nothing — desiring only to do your will.
I’m always so grateful to be Catholic. One of my favorite things is the Word of God at Mass. As I’ve gotten older — I feel more and more like the readings have been designed especially for me. Which is always good news. And sometimes it is “I just got socked in the head by God” news. But I’m always humbled and grateful.
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross — a meaningful day for me personally in many ways. Today marks several anniversaries for me: of my paternal grandmother’s death. Of my job interview that brought me to my previous parish. Of an especially important Youth Day liturgy for me in another diocese. Of my first real retreat given as a youth minister. Of the inception of the religious community I’m discerning. And the parish feast day of a good and holy priest friend. And the Triumph of the Cross is also sort of like the “half-birthday” of Good Friday. Sort of.
So these readings have great significance to me. But today as with many days — it’s as if I am hearing them for the first time. God always wants me to hear something I’ve never heard before, notice something I’ve never noticed before — and find Him in a space…or hear Him saying something I haven’t been prepared to find or hear until now.
I love all 4 of today’s readings for what I’m sure are the obvious reasons. They just ROCK. But our first reading gave me some personal insight today. I realized today that outside of the people complaining about food, water, weather, terrain, and then after getting smited by the Almighty Smiter Himself — they complain about snakebites — God could have easily just taken away the serpents. But He doesn’t. He leaves them. One presumes by the reading that the serpents continue to attack the people. But instead of taking something away — God gives them something extra. He adds to the equation. He gives them an opportunity to actually — physically — turn back around to face Him — by physically turning to look upon the bronze serpent on the staff in order to live.
The Grown Up Me knows this prefigures Jesus on the Cross and that we must look at him to live — but I can remember being about 10 years old and hearing this reading and thinking: “Hang on. BRONZE serpent? Didn’t God like *just* give those jokers the 10 Commandments? And didn’t they *just* get busted for golden cows or something? No graven images? But bronze serpents will heal you? What kind of trick is this?”
No trap. The Numbers reading refers to “saraph serpents.” According to the footnotes — saraphs were either poisonous flying snakes whose bites caused a burning pain (Wisdom 16) — OR a derivative of the fiery seraph angels guarding thrones in heaven — whose winged presence would have caused burning (Isaiah 6, 14, 30). God always gives us what we ask for — but in a way that is good for us. When we try to take away or get rid of things in our lives — or in the lives of others — that hurt, sting, or threaten our worldly lives — we risk missing the chance to physically turn around — and look God in the eyeballs. A tremendous current-day-new-evangelist I know would say, “in the eyelashes.” And that’s when things get spiritual. That’s when things truly get resurrected. And we move towards LIFE. Not this worldly life. Everlasting life. The life we were loved into being for. The life we don’t even realize we long for most of the time.
God is not Santa Claus. We don’t hand him a list. Or Albus Dumbledore. He doesn’t reverse whatever spell has been cast. God calls us to work within his plan. In this case — I am the Israelites. Asking for emancipation and receiving it. And then becoming impatient with the circumstances under which I have received what I have asked for. And so I doubt. I fear. I complain. Yet I received what I asked God for, didn’t I? I have a dear friend and together we muse that although we beg God to make us saints — when given the opportunity to do this inside of our vocations — I can’t even be kind to others and she can’t even get the laundry done. Some martyrs we’d make. PSH.
And so here come the snakes.
I’m pretty sure God does not wish to punish me for poor behavior. Although my behavior is certainly poor. I think He means to remind me that at my very best — when I am listening to and being obedient to His plan for me — I place my trust in Him completely. And that’s how I get led to wherever I am at any given moment. The serpents are about causing me to once again place my complete trust in Him to get me to the next place. Taking away the serpents and curing me demands no action on my part. And God is all about action. All about the 2-way street. All about encounter. Encuentro. Authentic and intimate friendship. My participation and cooperation inside God’s grace and my free will. I must stop what I’m doing and turn around and *look* at God in order to be healed. I must make that Act of Faith. I must surrender to God. Return to the mission. A favorite priest friend reminded the assembly once that submission is not the word we think it is. It’s not about weakness and dominance. It’s about having strength and courage to play on the team. To both lead and be coached. To share the burden. To carry — and even embrace — the cross. To be a good steward of what we have been loaned. To wash feet. It means to be “under mission.” A mission from God. Then we are co-missioned…can you imagine? Having a co-mission — a shared mission with God? Like THE God?! We have a role in that mission?! YES! My very favorite line in the newest translation of Eucharistic Prayer II is: “…that we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life.” CO-HEIRS. We are adopted children of God. CO-HEIRS. This is what we are called to become. Called to return to. Called to receive. We live up to our dignity and birthright in every Act of Faith.
SO — this first reading for me this week — is about really committing to humbly and joyfully working inside of the scenario God has given me. Serpents included. There can be no resurrection without a crucifixion. So I need to get it together. This is the exaltation — the triumph — of the cross for me this week. Until I get more instructions next Sunday. And I am furthermore forced to consider with great sadness as well that there are people in this world — for whom I am the biting-pain-causing serpent. ACK.
I find great encouragement and fortitude in that we are marked, then — with indelible signs from our Baptism and Confirmation — perhaps like a snake bite would leave a mark behind. The acts of faith — both in the turning towards God and in our sacramental lives are then what marks us. This is the how and the why we Point Catholic.
[Yes. Yes. I am a slacker pilgrim. I wrote the first half of this post almost 2 months ago — on the Feast of Pentecost..18 May. And I’m going to finish it today 13 July…so — leaving the first half as is…and away we go!]
Today is the Feast of Pentecost — Happy 1980th Birthday Catholic Church! Come Holy Spirit! And what a great time we live in — if we know how to see beyond the lens of the world! I’m not great at it yet — but I’m definitely trying!
So really — if I’m following the journey of our pilgrimage last month — I’m only really on Day 4 (which is technically only day 2…hmmm…I think I need a key) so — by request of others here it is:
Day 1: Travel
Day 2: Arrive Rome (for Mom and me…this was North American College and Cupola Tour)
Day 3: Papa Francesco & Vatican Museum
Day 4: Christian Rome: Catacombs (Domitilla), Papal Basilicas (St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. John Lateran), Drive-bys of Appian Way (Coliseum, Domino Quo Vadis Chapel, Baths of Caraclla, Arch of Drusus), the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain
Day 5: Monte Cassino and San Giovanni Rotondo
Day 6: San Giovanni Rotondo (All things Padre Pio), Monte Sant’Angelo
Day 7: San Giovanni Rotondo, Lanciano, Loreto, Assisi
Day 8: Assisi
Day 9: Assisi and Siena
Day 10: Travel Home
Lots of peeps have asked if it was overwhelming or difficult to be around noise and tourists in sacred places — and although there were probably moments of that — in general I have found continued gratitude in reflecting back on those time and processing why it may have been different for me.
Traveling with a pilgrim mentality (vs. a straight secular or even faith-based tour) really made a lot of difference for me. We were well-educated before entering these sacred places — on the bus or just outside or sometimes walking through the little towns that led to sacred places — either by our Guide Gaia or by our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan. Mom and I had also done some reading in advance of the pilgrimage — thanks Dad! And though we did occasionally use on site tours — it wasn’t often. So by the time we actually walked into these places — we had been spiritually focused (particularly if Mass preceded) and told where to go, what to see, and reminded to spend some time in prayer. And pretty much we were cut loose! For me — that was very freeing! I do remember watching touristy groups, earbuds plugged in, speeding by relics of saints and timeless historical art, and feeling sorry for them. When our little family of pilgrims met back as a group — often we were refocused by Fr. Stan and Gaia — and people told stories about their experiences inside/around whatever place — and another opportunity for formation took place. It felt like being part of the earliest Christian communities. And that’s where I begin today…on the Feast of Pentecost…
So…Day 4: Christian Rome
So this day was actually the Feast of St. Stanislaus, significant for multiple reasons:
First — because he is a Polish Saint and my boss is a Polish priest!
Second — because one of our 2 Permanent Deacon’s Confirmation Saint is Stanislaus!
and Third — because our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan is well…Fr. STAN!
Incidentally, St. Stanislaus was a Bishop of Poland and got himself martyred by refusing to accept immoral behavior from and consequently reprimanding the King of Poland. He is significant to my home parish as our patron, St. Thomas More, lost his head for much the same reason. Also, St. Stanislaus was canonized the first native saint of Poland on my birthday — that’s a super-fun reason to like him too!
Anyway…some interesting tidbits from the Order of Mass that day:
-from 2 Timothy 4: 1-2
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.
-from the Collect
…grant, we pray,
that we may persevere strong in faith even until death.
-from Acts 5 (First Reading)
(Peter and the Apostles) “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they (court officers and the Sanhedrin) heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.
-from John 3 (Gospel)
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
-from the Prayer over the Offerings
…so that, purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.
-from the Prayer After Communion
…in the Resurrection of Christ,
increase in us, we pray, the fruits of this paschal Sacrament,
and pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food.
It is Easter-y?
Is it Pentecost-y?
But the throwback here, folks, is that Mass that day was Said. In. The. Catacombs. Among the first believers. The original martyrs.
*****continued 13 July*****
And that, peeps, makes all the difference. We had Mass in lots of super-cool places which I will certainly write about — but this was the one that made my heart pound and brought tears to my eyes — because praying the words of the Mass on the feast day (red vestments) of a martyr (Stanislaus) in a place where martyrs were laid to rest didn’t just remind me — the whole history and spirit of the place called out with urgency and fire — fuego — to my own spirit — of who and what those words really cost others for me to be able to stand here and say them. Mass will never be the same for me again. Particularly the Sanctus (Holy). The Book of Revelation tells us this is the part where heaven and earth proclaim and worship God together. This is the closest we will ever come while here on earth — to heaven. This is a big part of why I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t want to be Catholic…or would stop going to Mass out of anger or sadness or guilt. This is as close as we get to our departed loved ones, the saints, our patrons, our family who has gone before us. We sing/pray the hymn of the communion of saints and the angels. And it was at this point in the liturgy in the catacombs that I was overwhelmed with the reality that some of those communion of saints might have stood — alive or not — right where I am standing. Celebrated Mass right where we are. On the stone altar on which the body of a martyr/saint/family member might have once been laid — and I get to touch.
We were not allowed to take pictures — but my journal notes here are:
2000 year-old architecture from YOUR family right in front of your nose. Just like your Catholic faith. Right in front of your nose. DON’T IGNORE IT. Travel into it. Walk inside. Don’t ever come out. This is your home.
I am going to receive the Eucharist with the earliest Christians and be united with my earliest family today. Without fear. Without persecution. Without martyrdom. Without sacrifice. Without a story of suffering. I haven’t been asked to give my whole life. But I desire to.
[I think these last 2 below might have been from Fr. Stan’s homily…they don’t sound like me…and I committed in advance to full participation in Mass and not taking pictures, video, or notes during liturgy and particularly during any of his homilies. I really wanted to allow liturgy to be liturgy…and to be a full, active, and conscious participant without distracting myself or anyone else…but occasionally I jotted down what immediately remained behind in my mind after Mass was over…so I think the following 2 might be his thoughts]
We must double our courage.
Moving forward means you understand the goal.
And for my history peeps — from wikipedia: the term catacombs first referred to the system of underground tombs between the 2nd and 3rd milestones of the Appian Way in Rome (which is where we were on Day 4), where the bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul, among others, were said to have been buried. The name of that place in late Latin was catacumbae, a word of obscure origin, possibly deriving from a proper name, or else a corruption of the Latin phrase cata tumbas, “among the tombs”. The word referred originally only to the Roman catacombs, but was extended by 1836 to refer to any subterranean receptacle of the dead, as in the 18th-century Paris catacombs.
According to my notes from our tour — there are 250 catacombs in Italy, 60 catacombs in Rome proper, and 5 catacombs that can be visited by the public. We were at the Catacombs of Domitilla, they are the oldest of Rome’s underground burial networks, and the only ones to still contain bones. They are also the best preserved and one of the largest of all the catacombs. 9 miles of underground tunnels! YIPES. Even our tour guide admitted he had gotten lost underground once! Included in their passages are a 2nd-century fresco of the Last Supper (which we saw…holy smokes FOR REAL!) and other valuable artifacts.
They are the only catacombs that have a subterranean basilica (which we also saw); entrance to the catacombs is achieved through this sunken 4th-century church, at via delle Sette Chiese 280. In the past, the basilica had become unsafe, and was abandoned in the 9th century. It was rediscovered in 1593, and much of it was reconstructed in 1870. In the beginning of 2009, at the request of the Vatican, the Divine Word Missionaries, a Roman Catholic Society of priests and Brothers, assumed responsibility as administrator of St. Domitilla Catacombs.
There is some confusion and unproven theories about who St. Flavia Domitilla was…but we are reasonably certain she came from a pagan family in the 1st century. She seems to have converted quietly and of her own accord to Christianity. She may have been the niece of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who had Flavia’s husband put to death, and sent her into exile until she was martyred for the faith by decapitation in the Coliseum. Her family converted many years later. There are only 2 martyrs for sure (certainly there could be more) buried at St. Domitilla: both soldiers and both martyred in the 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians in the military between 295-298. Their names were Nereus and Achilleus.
Although we were asked not to take photographs inside the catacombs — my mom took these outside — and there were lots of these inside too! Simplistic and inspirational:
So — this was only how my Thursday, 11 April 2013 (Day 4) started. There’s lots more to Day 4 coming next! But I could not be more grateful to our Tour Leader Judy, our Tour Guide Gaia, and our Spiritual Director, Fr. Stan — for whoever decided to do things in the order we did them. I just think it was perfect! Doing Christian Rome starting out with Mass in the catacombs on the Feast of St. Stanislaus just set the stage for the rest of the day — and the rest of the day set the stage for the whole pilgrimage. Just sayin’. Maybe it worked out this way by accident. But I don’t think anything is an accident.
One other note — there are no names or dates on tombs, etc. within the catacombs — we were told very matter-of-factly by our tour guide: “…because nobody cares! Christians believe in the Resurrection!”
That made me smile and think of the simplicity of our Holy Father Papa Francesco!