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Unwilling Willingness

(This is the text of a reflection that I offered at St. Edward the Confessor on Tuesday, December 18, during Evening Prayer.)
church_bazaar_christmas_fair_or_christian_event_flyer-p244107641514716651b73co_400God is with us.

God is with us.

God is with us.

It doesn’t always feel like God-is-with-us, does it? Especially now. Typically we might find ourselves on December 18th, pretty deeply into the “are-we-there-yet?” stage. You know, that feeling where we find our “it’s-almost-Christmas” glee crisscrossing with high anxiety over all the things yet unaccomplished as we race towards December 25.

Anxiety or glee – neither one is especially rooted in our Advent journey of holy waiting, but both are very common things to feel. I don’t know about you, but I am in a state of mind and heart that says, “can-we-leave-now?” rather than “are-we-there-yet?” And the “God-is-with-us” matter might be harder than usual to grasp. This makes me wonder if perhaps “are-we-there-yet?” and “can-we-leave-now?” are the wrong questions to ask.

We might find ourselves wanting to ask Continue reading

Lost sheep – an Advent Gospel reflection

This is a modified version of a reflection that I offered at Advent Evening Prayer at St. Edward the Confessor, in Clifton Park, NY.

Today’s Gospel:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”
-Matthew 18:12-14

Contemporary Catholic artist, Brother Mickey McGrath, has been posting daily “Advent calendar” updates on his Facebook page. His message for each day has to do with the daily reading. Today’s message was, “Give comfort to God’s people.” The image that he created was a joyful Jesus and a joyful sheep sheep – the image made me think that they were jumping for joy.

Between seeing this, and then considering something else that I read earlier this morning, I got to thinking… how many of us would just cut our losses and forget that one lost sheep? How often do we “write off” others with relative ease? The visual reminder of Jesus and that sheep reminded me that everyone counts, every person matters.

This past weekend I spent time with some friends who believe that they have been marginalized by the organized church. Frankly, I am not always sure that the church is purposely trying to marginalize my friends – but like so many family conflicts – and let’s face it, this is a family conflict, things happen and suddenly the sheep are not so much lost, as they are rejected. Or at least feeling that way. In this case, it is more than just feeling that way, if you ask me. Unyielding rigid ideology, often served up with the best of intentions, but without love, and things go poorly. Very. Poorly. That one sheep feels cut off and is lost.

Would you go look for the lost sheep? Or invite it in from the margins? Or do you recall what it feels like to be cut off, left out and rejected? It feels like you are… lost.

black_sheep_of_the_family1bAlthough we are about to celebrate the most unlikely of all things come December 25, a time when we remember that God came to take human form, a most remarkable thing! We are called to remember that Jesus, while fully human is also fully divine. And as such he goes far beyond what mere mortals we can do. While we might say things like, “that sheep left of its own accord,” or “the sheep did not follow the rules, we had to walk away,” or “seriously – what’s one little sheep?” Time to cut our losses and move on, right? Or, maybe God is not content with that. No – every sheep and every life matters.

When I think of all the people that I know who feel rejected or marginalized by the Church, I think of this Gospel. When I think of all the people who feel rejected by family, friends or others – I think of this Gospel. When I think of times that I myself have felt abandoned – or worse yet, the times when I have done the abandoning, I think of this Gospel.

Jesus does what God means for us to do. Find that lost sheep! And if we are the lost sheep, we must be found by one who seeks us with determination and love – not just a dry book of rules about why we made ourselves lost. If God became one of us, if God pursues us so ardently, how can that same God be willing to push us aside with a seemingly cruel and cavalier hand? How can that be the same God who leaves the 99 sheep, to go find the one sheep that is lost?

This God makes a demand upon us to be sure – to press past our differences, and live in communion in Christ, through reconciliation, filled with forgiveness and hope – and justice. Without justice, the whole thing falls apart. And justice is at the heart of God’s invitation is about. Like a shepherd chasing, and ultimately finding that one pesky little sheep, we must lean hard into the wind of our discontent. When we are the lost ones, we must push back into knowing that we will be found, loved, embraced and restored completely in justice and wholeness, by our God-with-us, our Emmanuel.

God does not cut God’s losses and move on, and neither should we. May this day remind us, as Brother Mickey’s art informs us, to “give comfort to God’s people.” Translation: don’t chase them out of the sheepfold. And as today’s Gospel clearly states in the words of Jesus, “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” If that is God’s will, then what else can we do but follow?

Monday Musing – Gratitude Edition

Later this week we will celebrate two things. One should be obvious; on Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ll get to the second in a moment.

Most Mondays, this post self-publishes, because I have written it before and set a timer that puts it on the blog. (Sorry to ruin the thought of me sitting here in my pajamas with my hair sticking straight up in the air, sleep still in my eyes, as I toil away! Oh wait, that is what you are getting today!) In all seriousness, that is how it works.

Today I am sitting here, writing fresh – mostly because I was away in NYC all weekend and I had not planned my timing very well. But that’s OK, because I am reminded of the gratitude that I feel for an amazing weekend.

When I was in New York, I got to meet some of the other authors of the book, Hungry and You Fed Me, Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C. I can’t tell you how exciting that was, and how grateful I am to actually be IN a book, especially a book like that, and to meet so many esteemed people of faith and vision.  I also got to do a lot of other things and see people that I love while in the city, it was wonderful. Thank you God! (See photos)

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What are you grateful for as we begin the week in which Thanksgiving falls? And for whom do you pray?

I think about the people who lost so much – loved ones, their homes or cars, their livelihoods – all due to Hurricane Sandy. My prayers for them as they navigate this season, perhaps finding it hard to feel thankful for much.

I am grateful to have spent Thanksgiving in Israel in 2004, and I am heartbroken as the violence rages on there, both from Hamas rockets and the Israeli response. It is a very small country, so a rocket from across the border would be something akin to someone in Burnt Hills trying to hit our church in Glenville with a rocket. The other side of the equation is that that it also means that Israel is responding with tremendous firepower, a short distance away and with great force.

God have mercy.

Again, who do you pray for? What are you grateful for?

And what else do we celebrate this week?

The final Sunday of the liturgical year! Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. We are deep into readings that are apocalyptic in nature, sometimes hard to read, listen to, or understand. I am always surprised when I meet fellow Roman Catholics who understand what they hear in the Book of Revelations in a literal way. There is so much historical, Scriptural, and theological context to what we come to know in this book of the Bible. The end is coming, but God calls us to a deeper understanding of what that means.

We also know that Advent is coming – a time of great promise and hope. Advent truly is the time of the “darkest days before the dawn.”

I don’t know about you, but I love Advent, and I do not really think about Christmas too much until we get closer to it.

So this week I invite us all to remember that we are God’s beloved children, that we are always in the presence of our God, whether we realize it or not, and that God is with us in the darkest moments, and that God is the dawn as well. My prayers of gratitude are like a flashlight, illuminating the pathway to the greatest Light of all – Jesus Christ. That thought makes me most grateful of all.

Amen!

*Two Things*
1 – If you would like to buy a copy of Hungry and You Fed Me, please let me know. I have some in the parish office. If you are a reader from afar, let me know, I can get a copy to you. Or you can visit that website. All self-promotion aside, it is a prayerful and rich volume that will accompany you through Year C. It also makes a wonderful gift!

2- Brother Mickey McGrath is coming to Immaculate in less than two weeks! Please mark your calendars to come on either Thursday night at 7pm on November 29, or at 9am on Friday November 30. If you want to win a copy of one of his books, please see this blog post from the other day. I have extended the deadline to Tuesday morning, November 20, at 7am eastern. Leave a comment and you will be entered into a drawing to win a book!

A new book…

There will be more to follow in coming days, but I did want to announce the publication of a new book. Hungry, And You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, featuring James Martin, SJ and Richard Rohr, OFM is now available for purchase. You can learn more about the book, and the associated charitable project by clicking this link.

It is a great honor and privilege to be a contributor to this effort, and I will post more soon. In the meantime, forget about me, and simply check out the great works offered by many esteemed authors, including art from Brother Mickey McGrath.

More to come next week… (and yes, copies will be sold in the office. )

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