There comes a moment for most of us when we wonder if the pursuit of God is an act of madness. The achievable, the common-sensical, is all around us. And who are we to dream what must seem, even to ourselves, the ultimate impossible dream?
The real problem comes when we cannot keep our dreams to ourselves. Like fools we unveil our secrets and hear others reflect back the haunting fear that has bubbled away at the back of our souls. “Are we crazy?”
People can understand the pursuit of money or stature. I can, too. What is hard, what is all but impossible to understand, is the pursuit of God by someone who otherwise seems so sane!
How, Lord, can I expect others to understand when I hardly understand myself?
This madness is sanity.
This darkness is light.
This absence is presence.
This emptiness is fulfillment.
I feel like a fool…
but only sometimes.
- Ramon Lull
It is not just that we are tempted to confine God’s presence to certain predictable times and places, it is that we think we already know what God is like and that we will instantly recognize God.
“I’d know him anywhere!”
There is an old Jewish epigram that says, “God is not a kindly old uncle, he is an earthquake – a tornado.” It follows that if we restrict our search to looking for that kindly uncle we will most certainly overlook the earthquake – and what lies behind the clamor of the city.
It is not only the essence of God to be beyond anything we could expect or imagine, but to shatter all our images, upset all our expectations, eclipse all of our preconceived, imagery that “we can live with.”
When we enter this mad pursuit of God with our lives, we need to leave behind our certainty that we already know the God we expect to encounter. -In conversation with a friend, John Kirvan
What are your thoughts on this? Do you find that your ideas of God hold you hostage at times? How do YOU seek and find news ways to imagine God and open your heart to who is really there?
I rolled up my sleeves last weekend – more of the same tomorrow – and fired up the mower, pulled the rake through the dense, snow-packed grass, and sifted a trowel through pots of dark, musty soil to plant a few handfuls of squirrel-resistant flowers. I know, those are hard to find!
Spring! So much is going on! Even the “purple rain” tree is flowering up a storm!
This wasn’t the first time I’d been out in the garden however; healthy plants in Spring mean that you have to work the soil while it’s all still dormant at the end of winter. Around February I made the rounds of all the plants and trees in the yard to work some systemic fertilizer and bug-preventer into the soil.
We forget sometimes that we, too, are connected to the earth’s changing forces, the tides, and the cycles of the moon…by the time Spring comes around we are ready to GO and life is flowing at full force.
The grape-vine that I wrote about last year is looking mighty iffy.
Call this “grape-vine-itis” – this plant is full of potential and just when nature is showing off in other places, all systems are NOT go for the grapevine.
Are your branches bare? It is so hard sometimes, for us as people of faith, to be patient. We want to be closer to God – now - to have a more vibrant prayer life, to enjoy Mass a little more…to love God more than we did yesterday. It is especially hard when we compare ourselves to others around us. Everything is coming up roses for everyone else I know, but not for me.
Comparing yourself to someone else is deadly. When we compare our spiritual progress to the spiritual progress of others it is even worse than deadly. We are SURE that they have a secret that we have never learned, or never earned, and that is what gives them the advantage.
The thing is – even when the vines are bare and nothing can be seen with the naked eye but distressed wood – powerful things are happening. These branches don’t just grow lush, green leaves, eventually they will strengthen to support wild, sweet fruit that will invite even more life back to the garden.
So don’t be discouraged. You are NOT one of the “have-nots.” There is SO much more to you than meets the eye – you are growing. It could be time for the mystery of your life in God to unfold.
Put in your time to till and feed the soil of your soul.
Do some spiritual reading that tunes you in to the mysterious work of God taking place inside you.
Find a quiet space to allow for the whisper of God.
Your soul feeling a bit naked right now? There is so much more to come! That is what the resurrection is all about – the gift of NEW LIFE. New life does not equal MORE of the same life – it means it’s all new in order to prepare you for new ways of living.
If you are joyful
it will shine in your eyes and in your look, in your conversation and in your contentment. You will not be able to hide it because joy overflows.
Mother Teresa said
Joy is very contagious. Try, therefore, to be always overflowing with joy – wherever you go. Joy must be one of the pivots of our life. It is the token of a generous personality.
Sometimes – it is also a mantle that clothes a life of sacrifice and self-giving. A person who has this gift often reaches high summits. He or she is like a sun – providing the safety and warmth which allows others to grow.
Joy is reciprocal
Here are my top three for the person I am thinking about:
1. This person is someone who has suffered – and yet, doesn’t let the pain, experience, or memory of that suffering shape everything in their life.
2. This person knows how to laugh at themselves…roll with the punches…roll their eyes at what life dishes.
3. This person loves…or tries to love…most of the time. Love motivates their patience and their presence.
You know what? It makes me feel good around them…it makes me joyful, too! Joy IS contagious – yet, a joyful person is not someone going through life with rose-colored glasses.
JOY looks at life straight on – with both eyes – and then blinks.
Yet, there is a price to pay for being joyful…I guess…or we would all be that way. Is our cynicism too precious to us?
Ok – so…two seconds…list three things that you would have to give up to be JOYful. What would it cost?
Worth the price?
Mother Teresa also said this:
We should ask ourselves, ‘Have I really experienced the joy of loving?’ True love is love that causes pain – that hurts – and yet brings us joy. That is why we need help, we must ask God’s help – we must ask for the courage to love.’
Who would have thought that love and joy had so much in common?
I want to be that joyful person that looks at life straight on and blinks. I want to be more loving. Some people would say it takes a village. OK – I pick you for my team! What if – this week – you and I tried to bring a little joy, a little more love, into our world? What would that look like for you?
Imagine a photo of high school seniors who have been attending a local church in your community. Now take a red marker and place an “X” over almost half of their faces. According to a handful of research studies, those students with a red “X” represent the more than 50 percent of those who have been Confirmed who drift from God and from the church after receiving the sacraments.
I spent two hours with six of our parish youth ministers, yesterday, who also double as Confirmation directors. Often, when budgets run tight as in this mission Diocese of Reno, parishes seek more “bang for their buck” and ministers end up wearing many different hats.
One young man in particular was eager to share what had been on his mind over the last two years as he struggled to connect with teens and their families in ways that would encourage kids to stick with the Church after receiving the sacraments. He wanted them to know there was a lifetime of support and joy to be found by participating in a living, growing, changing community of believers.
He grieved over the ones that fell away
One of the things we talked about was that many of our people today aren’t really sure of what they believe – there are so many “experts” available online and much more access to belief systems than previously.
What better source? I pulled out the Creed from one of the daily readings books I use and set it before him as the framework for how he could successfully and concretely approach the curriculum of the coming year.
Pouring over the words that we pray aloud, together every weekend fanned the fire of enthusiasm and hope in him as to how he could shape the coming year in ways that would be relevent and faithful.
When we talk about the Creed, it seems like a no-brainer…the prayer even starts that way…I believe. Yet, in the middle of the mess of our world these days, it is SO important to ask the obvious question – what do I believe? What keeps me on track when evil and human frailty threaten to derail the journey I am on?
Take some time…maybe now…and really allow the reality of what you profess as a Catholic believer to shape you today. Spend a few minutes with the God who loves you more than life…and answer the question for yourself and where there are blanks in your life…fill in them in.
I Believe… ____________________________
While it was dark inside - it was dawn outside.
Easter is still in the air
As Christians, we celebrate the mysterious love of God as shown to us by the risen Jesus for 50 days. This weekend, in the gospel, we will hear about another encounter that the 11 will have with Jesus. It is almost as though Jesus cannot stay away!
Many of them were fishermen. Sure, they left their nets and followed Jesus but these men didn’t just fish for a hobby. It was in their blood and in their families.
They were used to getting up with the birds – or the dogs – at dawn and working against the tides to find…what?
Have you been fishing? There are lots of different ways to approach the water. When someone drops a line or a net into the liquid below there is so much more at work than trolling for dinner. There is a sense that you are connected to something deeper and larger than you are on your own.
Fishing is not passive
When Jesus walked the earth, he used metaphors and images that people could relate to, and had experience with, whenever he spoke of the love of God or the kingdom of God…he wanted to attach our abstract thoughts to our concrete understanding. Fishing can do that.
These fishermen know their business. They know how to fish. They have been doing this for years.
Then one morning after the resurrection, they get restless and climb into their boats to work out their grief, their confusion, their questions. They needed the crisp, wet, morning air to breathe again – to think clearly again.
While it was dark inside – it was dawn outside.
Jesus yells a few pointers out to them. “Have you caught anything yet? No? Then why don’t you heave those nets to the other side?” Are they wondering who the guy on the beach thinks he is? Don’t we know how to do this…better than he does?
But they do as he recommends anyway and the nets begin to tear at the seams. There are so many fish that it is, well, ridiculous! This is a CRAZY haul! Are they wondering what ELSE is going on here - didn’t we already drop the nets there? - or do they even have time to think?
Jesus messes with our minds at times. He wants to get us outside of our typical thought process – outside of our comfort zone and the boxes we like to organize our lives into - to crack us wide open so that new thoughts about the way God loves us can make it into our hearts and minds.
When they make it back to the beach he already has a BBQ going with fish on the grill. “No one dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’…” So even though – perhaps – they felt a little unsure of their senses “Is this my friend, Jesus?” their hearts told them, “Yes! It’s Jesus squatting at the grill fixing my breakfast.”
When we walk with God, we have to remind ourselves to go beyond what our senses tell us.
So often people have asked me, “Yes, but how do I know it is really God talking to me and that I am not making it up?”
The best way to trust your heart with God is to keep practising that trust.
Take a step toward the Jesus squatting at the breakfast BBQ – or sitting in your Mom’s sickbed, or crying in need of a band-aid on their scrape, or crowding next to you on the subway, or anxious in line because they were late again, or asking for forgiveness one more time.…take a step toward that Jesus, be your best self in response, and see what happens.
With God all things are possible. You are loved. Why do you fear that you will be overlooked? Forgotten? Not considered relevant? Do you worry if you have “outgrown” faith?
No one is lost who wants to be found. Jesus has come for you…even if you are the very last one.
He is risen…and that is for real.
Lots of us huddled in the cool air last night around the “new fire” that was sparking in the breeze. Overhead the clouds warned of rain, yet looking around me at the faces lit with only a small candle, there was something else in the air…HOPE.
Christ our Light…Thanks be to God!
It was clear last night that the hope we long for – the hope that will ease the ache and sorrow of the struggles of this world – is so much bigger than ourselves. Our hope lies not in our own efforts to “put on a happy face” and wear “a stiff upper lip.” Our hope – that is meant to carry us forward when our own strength is drying up – is Christ. The Christ that is not conquered – by anything.
Christ our Light…Thanks be to God!
Over and over again in the readings this night we hear the same message made to everyone who has ever lived before us – “Unplug your ears! Open your eyes! I LOVE YOU and will not let you go!”
What seems crazy, unimaginable, ridiculous…becomes a reality! BREAK OUT THE PRESSES! God is in charge and “all things work for the good of those who love God.” Sarah, the ancient bride of Abraham, will finally have a child! The chosen people, stiff-necked and stubborn, will be led through the desert with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night due to God’s pure mercy. No one will be lost. No one will be forgotten. If God counsels trust – and no worry – to my relatives in the old and new testaments, then I will embrace that for myself as well!
Christ our Light…Thanks be to God!
Fire transforms. Fire changes the substance of things. It is no coincidence that the church uses fire for the rituals which begin the celebration of Easter.
We hear, in Scripture, about “fire-tried gold.” At a certain temperature the impurities within the gold ore dissolve and melt away, leaving the gold pure, strong, able to be molded and shaped into something precious and lasting.
No other analogy needed here. We get the point.
In the light of Christ’s fire - a fire of love that burns without ever being quenched - CAN YOU ACTUALLY IMAGINE BEING LOVED SO COMPLETELY? – we can never be the same. We don’t walk out of that kind of reality the same way we walked in.
I get it on one level and I don’t get it on many more…this is so much bigger than my head can comprehend. So – I am going to leave it to faith and stop worrying. God I believe – help my unbelief! Thank you for your love!
Spread the Good News!!!!
As we settle into Lent, our Scriptures give us both hope and promise.
We have no idea what it took for Abraham and Sarah to leave their home in response to God’s call – or what form that call took. Maybe Abraham and Sarah were, like millions of people today, economic migrants, or perhaps they had to flee as refugees, because of persecution.
Imagine this old couple as immigrants without papers, hoping for a future, too old for children, far from home. But now, in the dark solitude of their new wilderness – the promise of a future is given – a torch in the dark.
For the disciples, too, there is a promise: a torch of light, a radiant human being, their Lord and brother. Keep in mind that this promise comes as the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, where Jesus must suffer.
Not everything was clear to them…in fact, very little was clear to them as to what was going to happen in Jerusalem; the city that Jesus was so determined to reach.
What about us?
How do we follow Jesus these days? Leaving what we know, what is familiar, can be really scary. Though we may not be asked to go anywhere new geographically this Lent, but we may be asked by God…invited by God…prodded by God to leave our “home” – the security of the way we think about God – and believe that there are other paths.
What is your North star? To what do you align your interior compass and how do you keep yourself on the road to reach your intended goal?
Holding tight to that goal – to that road – to that vision may seem to be the right response to a chaotic world YET, I invite you to consider another way of going forward.
When I hold tight to something there is no room in my hands for anything else. I lock my sights to the end goal and the map / the game plan that will get me there in spite of the odds. I HAVE found however that when there is no room in me for any other way of seeing things that I eventually go blind in that area. I see what I want to see…and that’s it.
So – here is a CRAZY consideration!
There are a few weeks left of Lent – consider, during these days - releasing the hold on your goal; consider relaxing the grip on your interior compass. Be brave enough to relinquish the control over your future to the God that is already there…in your future.
If you are anything like me – this can be the toughest response to life…breathe and release. Trust.
I AM willing to follow the call of God, like Abraham and Sarah, so I need to build up the trust-factor in my life. They didn’t have a map. They didn’t know the destination. They may not even have known the language, but they responded with hope and prayed for the faith to believe the promise of God.
Hope and Promise – just what we need.
John Steinbeck observed, “When two people meet, each one is changed by the other…so, you’ve got two new people.”
It is so tempting to limit our relationships with others. “I know everything there is to know about my ________________.” It was very funny when, after 50+ years of marriage, my Mom would answer questions for my Dad…they’d look at each other and laugh, rolling their eyes at the familiarity that was an integral part of the way they interacted over the years. I KNOW you know people like that too!
Steinbeck’s observation makes so much sense…and yet…do we believe it to be true? Do I really allow myself to be actually changed by the other person? Am I open to this?
It simply means that I recognize that I am a person in process…a human being who is growing, evolving, and changing…using this LIFE as an opportunity to see what else I can make of myself…what else is in store.
How is that relationship growing, evolving, and changing? Do I know everything there is to know about God? Of course…I’d never say that out loud, would I? Ha! Yet…do I fall into that easy, lulling-to-my senses, kind of thinking where God ultimately doesn’t matter too much in the way I live my life today?
No guilt, here. Guilt bears no constructive fruit. Just another way of making those critical comparisons…how am I consistent? Do I reflect on my relationship with God, shape my relationship with God, in the same way I reflect and shape my relationships with others?
So…really…that is what LENT is about. Looking at this amazing, mysterious relationship, which has this eternal flavor to it, and seeing how I can be changed. Do I come out of Lent the same way I went in?
One of my favorite quotes is from German theologian Karl Rahner: “In this sense everyone, really and radically, must be understood as the event of a supernatural self-revelation of God.”
Imagine what CHANGE would look like if we saw each other in this light?
If I am willing to be changed this Lent…will it be radical or spare change?
I popped into a favorite local haunt for a cup of coffee yesterday and the young man behind the counter said, “Do you want your drink in a holiday cup? Of course, the season is over so you may want a regular one.”
Our local newspaper headlined on the second page insert on Christmas Day, “Now What? The presents are opened, the breakfast eaten, now what do you do that the holiday is over?” It was Christmas morning, for Pete’s sake! How could the holiday be over?
As Catholic Christians we anticipate the coming of Christ for the four weeks of Advent and we celebrate that coming for many days following – until the feast of The Baptism of the Lord next week, January 13th.
Christmas is still going strong for us – who attempt to live outside of the commercial agenda of our society – but it IS hard to continue to keep our awareness on what this season really means to us when there are already Valentine’s Day peeps at the Dollar Store.
I was spending a little time with Scripture on the 27th and one of John’s letters said something that really provoked further reflection.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God – and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgement because as he is, so are we in the world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who is fearful is not yet perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
I knew that in my head, already…I mean, we are taught this very early on, aren’t we? But do we believe in that love?
But, it was the next few lines that really caught my eye. The lines about having confidence on the day of judgement. Some of you know that I lost my father last month – he died after a very quick bout with an extremely aggressive cancer. And…he had no fear about death. His only fear was if he had done enough to love God while alive. My Dad had confidence on the day of his judgement; his confidence was in God’s love more than his merit of it.
I know that the God I love and have championed all of my life is the same God that loves me. I know that the WAY God loves me on earth through Jesus is the same WAY God will love me on the day of my judgement.
That is really important!
That means that God encourages us to trust that love never changes, only grows deeper and richer.
God became “touchable” in Jesus – God took on skin – God is with us – EMMANUEL! Why should anyone live in fear and trembling about the judgement day if they have an evolving, growing relationship with God on earth? God is near. We are in relationship together – it is not our work.
If I live each day that I am blessed with in the light of this love then the wonder of Christmas is something that exists for me well outside a twelve month calendar – it becomes the lifelong fuel that runs my engine of faith.
OH – one last thing – I smiled when the coffee guy expressed that the holiday was over and said, “Not for me! and I’ll take my cup of joe in a holiday cup just to seal the deal!”
Then Isaiah proclaims: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shown.
When this word is proclaimed in the liturgy it becomes a reality, here and now. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s light truly illumines our world with a radiance never before seen. We carry that radiance in our own broken vessels of clay. As Christ’s living body on earth, even now we are reflections – tiny sparks – of his Being. Call it Incarnation!
The opening prayer continues: We pray that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth, may also delight in his gladness in heaven.
Here is the paradox of this radiant night!
But Christ’s light and joy is not complete on this earth – not yet. His peace does not prevail in our world, but the hope for peace burns in our hearts. Doubt burdens many, but the seeds of hope born this night continue to sprout and grow. Nothing can stop them.
Paul assures Titus: The grace of God has appeared. The angel proclaims to the shepherds good news of great joy: a Savior is born for you.
Yes, the true Light has come, so we join the heavenly host in singing, “Glory to God and peace on earth!”
- Taken from the writings of Sister Gail Fitzpatrick