Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2015|
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I have been staring at the riding mower for weeks now. I needed to move it out of our little pecan orchard that will soon flood when receive our first watering from Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The Rio Grande in our part of New Mexico is bone dry from mid-August to June these years of drought and we will probably only get three or four waterings this summer. But the mower has been sitting in the yard under its cover since last fall and I dreaded trying to get it started. Why didn’t I follow the recommendation of our small engine repairman and start it up once a month to charge the battery? Why didn’t I run all the gas out of it the last time I used it?
Knowing that I will be out of town for a few weeks when the water is sure to come, I had to take action. I decided to just assume that the battery was dead and that I had to drain the gas from the tank. I gathered the few little tools to remove the battery and I noticed that I had a container full of gas in the shed…from last September. I tried to convince myself that it would be okay to use that old but carefully stored gas but when I dropped the battery off for re-charging I decided to ask. No, they explained, the ethanol in the gas gets “thick” after about three weeks and will “gum up the carburetor”. I had figured out how to drain the gas last season so I took care of that task while the battery was charging. Just be patient with all these little steps, I told myself. It’s all part of the process of getting started.
I picked up the battery this morning and stopped to get some fresh gas but in a smaller quantity so I could use it before it got “gummy” again. I changed into my work clothes, found the key to the mower, took a deep breath of patience and approached the machine. I popped the battery down into its spot under the seat and attached the cables without difficulty. I opened the hood to put in the gas, disgusted with all the accumulated spider webs, leaves and sand that had blown in under the cover. I grabbed one of the dead branches that I had collected from around the orchard earlier in the week and used it to scrape away the mess. Then I put down the hood, took my seat behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition and reviewed the sequence for starting the engine. I prepared myself for a disappointment as I turned the key but I had a happy surprise when it started right up! I put it in gear with a “Thank you, God!” and kicked up some dust around the yard as I cleared the few hardy weeds that have managed to grow with our occasional spring rains. Finally I drove down through the gate and parked the mower in the side yard that will not be irrigated.
The process of getting started for another season of growing and mowing is not unlike my experience of writing this blog every day for almost two weeks. There were times of resistance, just staring at the screen and knowing that I had work to do but preferring to ignore it. Taking time to gather my “tools” and to organize my thoughts, to clear away the cobwebs and get rid of what might “gum up the works” was very helpful. Fresh gas and a charged battery were essential. Gratitude filled my heart when the words jumped out without coaxing and there was great satisfaction in surveying a finished piece of work, hitting the button and seeing the “YAY! You’ve published another blog!”
I will be spending the next few weeks in California so I may not be such a faithful blogger but I thank everyone who has been following and encouraging me to continue. You have helped me to remember how much each day counts!
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I’ve been thinking about the words of Rainer Maria Rilke: “try to love the questions” (Letters to a Young Poet). This response to one who was trying to find his way forward in his craft and calling as a writer is sincere but also exasperating. It is good advice for anyone in discernment, young or old, because the answers are usually slow in coming. You spend a lot more time with the questions. And as soon as you figure some out, a whole new batch will surface.
It is definitely not easy to love the questions. In fact, you can actually come to hate them. In my experience the questions multiply when want to be sure that I’m getting the best deal, the most perfect outcome, the sure thing. I am far from the “holy indifference” that St. Ignatius recommended in the Spiritual Exercises. I am trying to control the outcome, even by putting the decision on my own timeline. Staying with the questions is a way of being open to God’s timeline. Trying to love the questions is giving myself over to a process guided by a Loving Creator. The questions are not enemies. Discernment is not a test.
Another wise poet has words that can encourage all of us who are trying to love the questions: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets) May God bless us in our efforts.
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I love the daily Gospels at this time of the liturgical season. Jesus’ “farewell discourse” is so full of tenderness and even includes all those (of us!) who will believe because of the testimony of his first followers. Today the words that repeated in my heart were “be brave” (Jn. 16:33- New Jerusalem Bible). After acknowledging that all of his closest friends will scatter and abandon him, Jesus says that no matter how bad it gets, “be brave” because he has conquered the world.
No matter how bad it gets, be brave! I don’t quite feel up to it. So many situations in the world each day are sad, outrageous, terrifying and overwhelming. What did you hear on the news today? I heard about gang members in Waco, Texas shooting it out at a local restaurant, killing nine and wounding eighteen. I just saw a photo on Facebook of a hundred desperate refugees in a boat off the coast of Thailand and no country will receive them. And the Trans-Pacific Trade agreement seems to be gathering support in Congress despite vigorous efforts by some very curious alliances to defeat it. I will stop there but I could go on and on.
Jesus, in this good-bye message, told us that times would be full of trouble. But we are to “be brave” because guess what? Just as he was not alone, neither are we. If we are brave enough to put ourselves in service of his mission, he will more than make up for whatever is lacking. Even courage. And we know the end of the story: Love wins!
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The second reading for today’s Ascension Sunday liturgy exhorts us to “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received” Many times when accompanying people discerning their life’s call I have heard them say, in one way or another, “but I am not worthy of this- I am not good enough…” I always respond that none of us is “worthy” enough. It doesn’t depend, thank God, on our worthiness. The call is God’s gift. Am I willing to receive it?
Paul lays out what it means to live a life worthy of the call: in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, in unity and peace…” (Ephesians 4: 1-7) He starts off with humility, a true humility that knows that God’s grace and goodness and love is the source of the call- not our own worthiness. Can I be humble enough to receive God’s call and to trust that God can do these things in me?
As I wrote on Thursday, the end of Mark’s Gospel says that after Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples took up his mission and the Lord continued to work with them. The call to continue the mission of Jesus keeps coming every day. Even as we wait for the fullness of the Spirit to be poured out on us and our world, there is work to be done. And we are worthy of the call as the Lord continues to work with us.
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This morning I had the opportunity to talk about Catholic Social Teaching at St. Mark ACTS monthly community meeting. It gave me a reason to review and remind myself about this “best kept secret” that is one of the three constitutive elements of our faith: Scripture (Word), Sacrament (Worship) and Social Justice (World). Without tending to each of these dimensions our Christian commitment is weakened.
Action on behalf of social justice means that we stand on the two feet of Charity (direct service) and Justice (advocacy). I used the example of St. Mark’s service to the refugees at Nazareth Hall, providing the hot evening meal for two months at a time and assisting with donations of clothing and travel bags as well as rides to the bus and airport (direct service) but also advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. Both are important and necessary. This action on behalf of justice is rooted in several of the key themes of Catholic Social Teaching: reverence for life and human dignity, solidarity, care for the poor and vulnerable, and economic justice. And to sustain such action requires the nourishment of the Word and Sacrament in community.
I closed my presentation with a challenge that I take to heart myself: In the coming week I commit myself to examine how well my life of faith includes Scripture, Sacrament and Social Justice. And I will pay special attention to how well I walk on the two feet of Catholic Social Teaching: Charity and Justice.
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From today’s Gospel: When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.
Do you ever wonder how Jesus came up with his material? The image he chose in this passage from his farewell address to describe sacrificial love has always made me ask that question. I imagine that as a boy, Jesus had heard the cries of women in labor. It must have been frightening and mysterious, waiting and wondering outside with the men. I think he would have had so many questions: What was happening in there? Was there danger? Might she die? Some women probably did. And babies, too.
But Jesus must have been so surprised when he was finally allowed to see mother and baby after the birth. Where was the woman who had cried out in agony with the pains of labor? All was forgotten in the celebration of new life. He saw joy and a kind of love that penetrated to his core. This love sacrificed. This love endured. This love went to the brink of death for the sake of life. This filled Jesus with wonder and awe!
This was the image that sustained him as he said his good-byes to his friends. “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Like a woman in labor, his hour had come. The birth pains were upon him. He trusted that God the Mother, God the Midwife of All Creation, would bring him from death to new life.
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This is Ascension Thursday, though in many dioceses the feast will be celebrated on Sunday. This morning Peggy read the end of Mark’s gospel for our meditation:
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
Usually my Ascension reflections tend toward the “sending” of the disciples and the “going away” of Jesus. Kind of like he handed-off the baton. But today I heard that line “while the Lord worked with them” and it gave me something to think about all day.
Jesus still has his hands in the work he has entrusted to me. His hands were on mine as I put the lunch leftovers back in the refrigerator and cleaned two bedrooms at Nazareth Hall. He sat with us tonight as we discussed the directional statement from our congregational Chapter and wondered how it would transform us as Sisters of Charity and Associates. What confidence these words inspire as we give ourselves over to the mission of Jesus! He is still working right alongside of us. In fact his Spirit is our very impulse to serve.
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