It Won’t Be the Same
What if Jesus had not ascended into heaven? What if he never left the disciples? These questions offer me an opportunity to reflect on what we will experience at this weekend’s liturgies of the Mass. I believe that it will apply to those of us at St. Francis physically as well as those who are at home, celebrating Mass as a domestic church. Wherever we choose to be, we are one—one community of St. Francis of Assisi.
If Jesus had not left, he would have been confined to a geographical area with only those who encountered him physically. But by dying and rising, by spending another 40 days reinforcing his teaching, Jesus made it possible for an encounter with him to continue through his followers. Jesus’ words before he ascended were “go…and make disciples of all nations….I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Through the ages, that commission has endured as has the promise of God’s presence and care for us. I call that Providence!
As our church reopens this weekend, much will be different! This pandemic has changed us—as individuals, as a community, as a parish. Last Sunday, a group of my friends and I were challenged with this question: What have you learned about yourself in the midst of this pandemic? How have you changed? We can ask the same thing about our community, our parish.
It won’t be the same on Saturday and Sunday! It will be different for many reasons. The old skins will no longer contain the new wine, as it is said. It is time however to imagine what is new about us and how we choose to dream for our parish. We won’t be participating in the same way, but we do have the opportunity to listen. We might begin to identify with those who are often not included and not given a voice. Perhaps this is the gift of the Spirit that God is awakening in us.
We will discover new places in the pews and new neighbors. We will thank God for the ways in which we have learned to value what really matters in our lives, and what we can do without. We can sit sharing a common table, at the altar with Father and at the table in our homes. We can identify with those who have access to the Eucharist a few times of the year only.
We share conversations that express our deepest longings—the prayers of the faithful, at church and at home. We answer the call to make disciples, to be disciples trusting that we are not alone.
We see signs all around us. Newness is among us and within us. Like many of the plants on our beautiful grounds, we are in various stages of growth—full bloom, opening and unfurling, and in some cases just buds. All are signs of something new—a dream God has for our parish. Together, at church and at home, we discover that dream for us! We need each other. We need God.
“I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus’ promise to his disciples then and to us today! Let us do more than survive! Let us thrive!
The Creativity of the Holy Spirit
“He will give you another Advocate to be with you always…” In these weeks leading to Pentecost, we are given readings that are filled with references to the Holy Spirit. This Sunday, we focus on joy, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The joy in the early community came from witnessing great works—healing, bringing to wholeness, moving from surviving to thriving, especially for those who were neglected and did not count.
This pandemic is revealing immense needs—countless ways to love our neighbor. Like the Samaritans, we are witnessing the good deeds of others, small as well as large miracles of caring. The gifts given include words of encouragement to those suffering in any way, food deliveries, offers to run errands, volunteering to make phone calls to check on people, attending to our families, and incessant prayers of gratitude for those who sacrifice for the sake of others.
What signs are you seeing that fill you with “great joy”? What miraculous signs come from individuals, companies, businesses, and people taking care of other people?
If we are paying attention, we are listening, hearing, and seeing in new ways. Observing Mother’s Day called for creativity. Many are honoring graduates in new ways. All of nature is louder, more colorful, and cleaner. Jesus promised that we would never be abandoned or left as orphans. The Holy Spirit inspires us to sanctify Christ as Lord in every area of life: home, government, church, world, and all of creation.
What is the Holy Spirit seeking to do with his/her infinitely creative mind in your life? How can the Holy Spirit loosen the knots, lessen the worries, calm the anxieties about the unknown and move us to action?
So we pray the prayer many of us pray often:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
“Come to him, a living stone…let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” This pandemic is leading and guiding us to be living stones—stones with “hearts” for those who are neglected. For the Hebrews, it was their widows who were neglected. As we pay attention to the news today, we learn of many who are neglected. Some of them, deemed “essential” for work, are also unable to work from home and are therefore exposed to the virus, many without the protection they need. The protection they seek might include protective wear, a safe environment, access to testing, insurance, and counseling. Some are being threatened with the loss of their jobs if they don’t show up to work (even if they might be sick or feel that their health is being threatened). They are neglected. Some are ready to go back to work but are worried about child care because school was their child care (and food). Some are low wage workers dependent on tips. Many of these are uninsured. As for the undocumented, even if they are married to citizens and have children who are citizens, their status disqualifies everyone in their family from receiving “relief” benefits. All of these might be deemed the neglected today.
How then are we to be “living stones”—stones that rebuild the community? The Scripture readings for this weekend ask for new leaders, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, chosen by the community to assist all in becoming obedient to the faith. Peter invites us to come, to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. What do those sacrifices look like? How are we being transformed into “living stones” during this time?
The readings ask us to address structural issues as well. How do we define essential work? Who gets “hazard” pay? What is a living wage? How did so many become so vulnerable? Why are we pitting “health” against “economy”? Disagreements about what is good for all have arisen among us, just as they did in Jesus’ time. In the midst of division, Jesus always prayed for himself and for his followers. He provided his disciples with a vision that asked: What are the desires of God’s heart? What are the Lord’s designs for our flourishing?
Jesus was very clear in saying, “I am the Way.” He didn’t say he was the way, if we wanted him to be. Or if it was convenient! Living and praying with the Word we ask again. Be our Way. Be our Truth. Be our Life. Be the Source of our flourishing. May we not only survive, but thrive.
The Guardian of Our Souls
The sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice—the voice of the Good Shepherd! I truly hope that I am recognizing the voice of the Good Shepherd. These days, I want to be that sheep, chosen to hang on the neck of Jesus so that I can hear, understand and recognize the voice of Jesus.
So many voices compete for our attention these days. In the midst of this pandemic, we hear daily statistics of those stricken, those who have recovered and those who have died. We pray for those who sacrifice their own health to provide for others. Opinions about strategies and timelines differ. We ache to hear voices that say “What can I do to help” instead of competition for limited resources and endless blame. We long for healing and peace and the restoration of well-being not only for ourselves, but for the earth as well.
All of the readings this Sunday make reference to God’s work in our lives through the image, role and actions of the Good Shepherd. God is always seeking our attention, wants us to hear God’s voice. God chases us, pursues us, and reigns us in. The one that goes astray is chosen. Perhaps it is only when we hang around the neck of Jesus that we experience how he guards, protects, disciplines and conforms us.
When I/we return to the fold, when our churches are re-opened, how will we have changed? How will we have been “cut to the heart?” How will we daily accept Jesus as the guardian of our souls? “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
My favorite post discovered on Facebook this week: May we grow back not to what was but instead towards what we can become.
We Tell the Story
I believe and feel that we are all on an extended Emmaus walk. We feel loss, heartache, disappointment. We are grieving. We have been hoping for so many things. My grandnephew is so disappointed that he has to wait to make his First Communion. He wrote Father a letter asking him to “hurry things up” so that he could receive Jesus. Our eleven catechumens are waiting to be baptized. Some in our parish have changed the date of their wedding multiple times. We haven’t been able to celebrate Masses of Resurrection for our dead in the way we are accustomed to.
The comment I hear and read most often from so many of you is how much you miss the Eucharist. Live-streamed liturgies are good, but it isn’t the same without receiving Jesus. Perhaps we, like the disciples after the Resurrection, do not recognize Jesus walking with us, especially in this pandemic. Our lives too have been so disrupted. The way we think it should be just isn’t. And we don’t know what to expect or when to expect it. We fear that we have lost Jesus.
One word that I hear more and more these days is “pivot.” To pivot is to be grounded in one way and also to be agile and able to move in any direction needed. So how might we be asked to “pivot” in our understanding of how Jesus is present to us? What is it that keeps us from recognizing him?
We can probably name all the ways we experience the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic liturgy—in the assembly, in the presider, in the Word and in the Eucharist. In these extraordinary times, we experience all of these in different ways. Different does not mean deficient. Are we recognizing Jesus accompanying us in our trials and tribulations, in the everyday experiences of work, family, health and safety? Are we recognizing Jesus in the re-creation of the earth, in the beauty and the bounty of nature?
The disciples walked with a stranger and expressed their feelings. They listened to the stranger tell stories—re-casting the experience they related. The narrative began to sound familiar so they asked the stranger to stay. Then in the breaking of the bread their eyes were opened and their hearts were burning. They were awakened to JOY.
The story is familiar. The story lives on in us. Today we are asked to “pivot”—to transform despair into hope, weariness into refreshment, our desire to give up into perseverance and resilience, and to recognize Easter JOY! We are living the Paschal Mystery! How do we tell the story? How is He alive in us and to us?
New Life, New Living
We are an Easter people! That means that our “Alleluias” are bold, loud and frequent! We sing for joy! We celebrate Resurrection! That’s Easter Sunday! And then we revisit the Acts of the Apostles and we learn what it means to be followers of Jesus on our own. Communal life—sharing meals, holding all possessions in common, distributing resources according to need, praising God with exultation—these were the actions and ways of being among the Apostles.
These acts of the apostles offer a great challenge to us during this time of the pandemic. Anne Osdieck offers us this poetic interpretation:
Come right through
our fear of locked pandemic doors;
breathe your Holy Spirit into us.
Give us please your peace
that comes from
we want to give it out
to everyone who would believe.
Make us instruments
of the power
To be instruments of the power of Jesus’ resurrection is to live as Jesus taught us. “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” What is the awe that we are experiencing? Jesus is alive and well in all the medical personnel—the angels of mercy—who live their vocation to care for the ill and the dying in difficult conditions. Jesus is alive and well in those who feed the hungry, who share rather than hoard possessions. Jesus is alive and well in our being the domestic church, just like in the days of the apostles. Jesus is alive and well in our “Stay at home, save lives” commitment. Jesus is alive and well in the peace we offer to others.
Many of us are becoming aware of signs and wonders—awed in fact—by the beauty of creation, the signs of new life. Mother Earth is breathing fresh air, mountain tops are visible, fish are seen in clean water canals in Venice. Bird chirps are louder, animals are roaming freely. Re-creation is occurring everywhere. We are amazed and filled with awe!
He is alive! He is among us! There are many, many more stories about Jesus that only you can tell because you are living them today! Praise and thank God for the “wonders and signs” you are experiencing in yourself, your family, and our parish community. Tell about them! We can all be instruments of the power of Jesus’ resurrection!
Resurrection is about the change that is happening in each of us, in all of us! Can we see it? Name it?
Tombs and Wombs
The three characters in this image intrigue me! One is looking into the light, one seems to want to avoid it altogether, and the third goes out to embrace new light! Perhaps a bit of each of those characters is in us as we live the Holy Triduum in our own homes rather than in church.
The “tomb” has an opening—a way in and a way out. During this Lenten time of reflection, have you experienced any of what leads us into the tomb? Have you dared to enter in? Have you seen darkness or light? A bit of both?
Have you experienced any “exits” from dark places, some perhaps the “tombs” of our own making? How have we experienced the “way of the cross?” With whom have we walked? When have we helped others carry their cross? When have we wiped the face of Jesus? Has Lent brought new ways of seeing, new awareness, new attention and new understanding of things and people we took for granted in the past? How do we give expression to the newness?
When we “roll away the stone” of our hearts, what do we find within this Easter? How do we take the enlightenment of Lent to bring new life, new light to others?
Celebrating the Triduum at home gives us the opportunity to recast all the images and expectations that we have of Triduum’s past. Yes, we treasure those, especially the ones we celebrate in our SFA community. This year we wash each other’s feet by staying at home and protecting ourselves and others. We choose life! Our hearts are the tabernacles hosting Jesus. We make our family meals a feast of thanksgiving—the meaning of Eucharist. We can place “light” in our windows. We replace palms with Easter symbols on our doors. AND we celebrate Easter creatively—we share Easter joy in new ways. May our wounds—our grief at the loss of what we hold as tradition, the way we always do things, become wombs of new creation! Happy Easter! Alleluia! He is risen! He is alive!
We Cry “Hosanna!”
My almost constant prayer these days is “Please, Lord, save us!” I learned today that the meaning of the word “Hosanna” is just that. We will hear “Hosanna” multiple times at Mass this weekend. Yes, we will be pleading for help and we will also be showing gratitude for what Jesus has done. Both refer to how we are doing spiritually.
Lent is so different for all of us this year. In many ways, we have been pushed into a desert, a kind of disorientation that leaves us anxious and not sure what will happen next. We walk with Jesus during the next few days, more intentionally focused on how we enter into the passion, death, and resurrection.
Jesus’ journey to the cross begins with a humble entry into Jerusalem. We refer to this Sunday as Palm Sunday. Like Ash Wednesday, we leave church with something tangible, a sacramental, and a reminder of our participation in holy work, the work of the people, Holy Week. We remember what Jesus did for us and we plead to be remembered by Jesus. Please, Lord, save us!
Palm Sunday without palms? Hmmm! What to do? This pandemic is forcing us to think about the essence of things, to explore meanings and to use our creativity to not only “make do” but also to create new understandings, new practices and new ways of participating.
Not everyone in the world has access to palms. In some countries, other types of greenery suffice. Let it be so with us. Choosing our “palms” and displaying them makes the event more meaningful. And the days that follow will include other choices that we make about how we participate in Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.
These days are filled with opportunities for Spiritual Communion. Yes, we desire to receive Jesus in our being through reception of the Eucharist. That desire is REAL and declares our being in union, in communion. Our display of “palms,” our praise, worship, and gratitude expressed in our homes, the domestic church is also Spiritual Communion. We are all in! We are all together—in new ways!
So we pray: Lord hear us. Lord save us. Please help us, please show us how to create something new. Thank you, God. Thank you for walking with me, for making a new way for me and for my family! Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!
Live in Hope
“I will put my spirit in you that you may live.” These words from the prophet Ezekiel remind us that in the midst of this pandemic God will see us through this. God is with us. God is creating something new in all of us—individually, as families, as the St. Francis parish community, as citizens and neighbors and in our world.
Perhaps we identify with the Babylonians in exile—Ezekiel’s audience. In many ways, we are feeling like we are in exile. We feel grief at the loss of life as we knew it just a few weeks ago. So much has changed and we are slowly realizing how a mysterious virus is affecting every aspect of our lives. We are discovering who we are and are being given the opportunity to create something new.
Some of us are discovering what it means to make a phone call rather than texting. Some of us are appreciating our children’s teachers more. Some of us are learning to pray as a family. Others are reaching out and accompanying others on this journey. People are standing in the street, keeping a safe distance and talking to their neighbors.
At present, we are also experiencing the challenge of being “Church” without being physically together in one place. We miss the Eucharist, YES. We are also discovering that the Spirit is in each of us as Jesus promised at Pentecost. The Spirit is with us through our reception of Baptism and Confirmation. There is no cancelation of the Spirit being in us and with us.
My short prayer, repeated several times each day is familiar to all of us. “Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful. Renew the face of the earth.” May the Spirit be in each of you that you may live—with hope and altered purpose.
May we be like Lazarus to whom Jesus beckons to new life. May we, like Jesus, be filled with compassion for all who are suffering, working in impossible circumstances and experiencing helplessness. May we be filled with gratitude for all that we have taken for granted.
Open the Eyes of Our Heart
It is no secret that I am a huge Star Wars fan. In A New Hope, the wise Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi is teaching the young Luke Skywalker the ways of the Force, a mysterious energy field created by all living things in the Star Wars universe. As part of Luke’s training, Obi-Wan makes him wear a helmet, and Luke is quick to complain that he cannot see with the blast shield down. Obi-Wan responds, “Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them.” Once Luke begins trusting his feelings rather than his eyesight, he is able to overcome the challenge.
Likewise, God has to tell Samuel not to rely on his sight when he sends him to anoint his chosen king. When Samuel arrives in Bethlehem, he encounters Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, and immediately assumes, based on Eliab’s looks, that he is the king he is searching for. God, however, interjects, saying, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel meets seven other sons of Jesse before finding and anointing the youngest and least likely choice, David.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. Pope Francis walks us through the blind man’s transition from spiritual blindness.
The path of the blind man… is a gradual process that begins with knowing Jesus’ name. He does not know anything else about him. In fact, he says: “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes” (John 9:11). In response to the pressing questions of the doctors of the law he first says that Jesus is a prophet (John 9:17) and then a man close to God (John 9:31). After he is thrown out of the Temple, excluded from society, Jesus finds him again and “opens his eyes” a second time, revealing to him his true identity: “I am the Messiah,” he tells him. At this point, the man who was blind exclaims: “I do believe, Lord!” (John 9:38), and prostrates himself before Jesus.
This is a passage of the Gospel that gives us a glimpse of the drama of the interior blindness of many people. And we glimpse our own interior blindness too because we sometimes have moments of such blindness. …Let us open ourselves to the light of the Lord, he awaits us always in order to enable us to see better, to give us more light, to forgive us. Let us not forget this!
Pope Francis, March 30, 2014
What are the things in our life that make us blind to the needs of others, especially during these uncertain times? Do we spend too much time looking inward thinking about our own desires? Do we spend so much time staring down at a screen that we never look up at the people around us? Do feelings of fear or panic stoked by the media or even our own mind make us want to close our eyes to avoid difficult conversations or situations? Does pride or arrogance blur reality and trick us into thinking that we are immune to certain dangers or that we do not need to rely on helping hands? Do we let anger blind us and cut off opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness?
Let us, like Luke and Samuel, take that sometimes uncomfortable step of using our feelings, our heart to see, rather than solely our eyes. Only then, after we have taken that step, can we truly embark on a path from spiritual blindness like the man in the Gospel and “live as children of light… [producing] every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:8-9).
As we continue on our very unique 2020 Lenten journey, let us pray that God opens the eyes of our heart so that we can see as He sees.
By Kenneth Caruthers, Director of Communication