Love could be the theme for this Sunday; after all, it is Mother’s Day. Or we could believe that we have come to love Sundays because we can gather in person, perhaps more readily. Or, it could be that we have come to know what love (both given and received) means in the midst of all that we have lived through in the past 15 months. The words almost sound like we are in an echo chamber: Love one another. Remain in my love. Love one another as I love you! I have called you friends. I chose you. As the Father loves me, so I love you. This I command you: love one another. Words about love abound in our readings for this weekend.
Love is not a suggestion or a wish, but a command from Jesus. In fact, all of these are imperatives. They have power and strength; they come from Jesus. No “if you want” or “if you wish” or “just a suggestion.”
And since I am dwelling on words, I also love the verbs used to describe the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fell on all who were listening to the word. The gift of the Holy Spirit …poured out on the Gentiles also. No doves in flight and no fiery tongues, but powerful and lavish falling and pouring! Imagine the Holy Spirit being as prolific as the drenching rains of the past week.
We have experienced the capacity not just to hold on to love, but also to extend love to all of our brothers and sisters, no exceptions, in our Parish ReConnect gatherings. We have named the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been profoundly and consistently present in our lives, physically distanced as we have been. As we anticipate Pentecost and the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit, we are grateful for our reflections and our learnings and we give voice to our commitment to accompany, welcome, and engage (AWE) our brothers and sisters in parish life and beyond. We are being transformed. Life in our cocoons is generating beauty and awe—the awe in seeing new leaves and blooms, the awe we see in butterflies, the awe we experience in the children among us, the awe we know in the resilience of all who continue to inspire ( in-Spirit) us in actions and deeds, in thoughts and feelings.
And so we work and pray: Loving and generous God, we ask you to fall on us and pour out on us the gift of listening deeply to one another with love and respect. Bind us together in love and help us to be clear channels of your wisdom and love for one another. May it be so!
The Sap of Love
These days many of us are amazed at how we see much of the vegetation that we thought had died in the ice/snow storm in February come to life. It seems that the visible foliage and branches died, but the roots had sap. What we had almost given up on, suddenly has new life at the ground level, as well as below in the roots. These images of nature, vines and branches, offer us so much to think about, to reflect on after over a year of distancing—a kind of dormancy, and most certainly a pruning in our lives.
We all went through a “pruning” experience, whether we chose it or not. What we can choose is to ask ourselves, “What did we learn from the experience?” How are we different? Do we value some things more than before COVID? Have we let some things matter less? How have relationships changed? What have been some of the blessings of our dormancy and our pruning? What has died and what is coming to life?
In Church life, in our parish community, I am hearing and seeing signs of the new in us too! We are telling stories about how we tended our personal and communal growth as “vines and branches” in our Church community. We are looking for signs of new life among us as people, as the St. Francis Community. We have changed! We are identifying deeds and actions that invite us to new relationships, new sprouts of leadership, initiative, and desire to heal divisions among us. We are digging deep to find our roots again. We want to re-connect!
We have been pruned by the Word. The sap in our lives is the Word. We have new life, often revealed to us through the gifts of the Holy Spirit—patience, kindness, joy, resilience, openness, new understanding of ourselves and others. We have opportunities to cherish the “sap” and to discover our rootedness through the Saturday morning reflection tomorrow from 9-11, the Parish ReConnect experiences (both in-person and virtual), and conversations and deeds that are expressions of Easter AWE (Accompaniment, Welcome, and Engagement). We are spreading out our branches and budding forth delights! For this, let us all work and pray!
One of my favorite authors is Meg Wheatley. Her 2002 publication, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, is a book that almost 20 years later is offering inspiration to me today. The quote from that book that has been on my mind throughout this pandemic, this time of distancing and separation—some chosen to be healthy and safe, and some that has been caused by a difficult national election, a difference in political views, some differences about religion, and a lot of Facebook or other social media postings that draw the line between “us” and “them.” I assume that none of us “likes” what we are experiencing. When families are divided by beliefs, it becomes particularly distressing.
Meg Wheatley writes: “You don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.”
In the Gospel for this weekend, we are reminded about what a Good Shepherd does to keep his herd together. In the midst of all the distancing and division, the longing and yearning that we have had for connection, to be together, we need time to have some simple conversations. We need each other. We need to turn to one another. I assume that we want to “stay together” as one flock.
I invite us all to reflect on each of the words in Wheatley’s quote. In many ways, I personally can hear Jesus’ words and actions in that quote. It describes the world described in Acts of the Apostles. It describes our world, our city, our community.
We have several opportunities to enter into simple conversations that identify and name what we are individually and collectively willing to do to “stay together.” Join us for our Parish ReConnect experiences on Sunday from 12-1 in person for the first gathering. Other times are listed at http://sfasat.org/parishreconnect/. Please come!
Recognizing the Lord
After the Resurrection, Jesus has a hard time being recognized. Mary Magdalene thinks he is a gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus think he is a stranger who didn’t know anything about the week of events. And in this week’s Scripture, the men and women followers think he is a ghost. Until he eats real food with them.
I have been thinking a lot about what it means to eat real food with others who are considered gardeners, strangers, and ghosts. In many ways, these are often people I just don’t know, or I don’t know them YET! John in the Epistle for this weekend says we can’t say “I know him” referring to Jesus without keeping the commandments. Knowing people and actions that do not hurt people go hand in hand. If we know Jesus, or claim to know Jesus, we are treating people the way Jesus would. What would Jesus do, the famous rubber bracelet expression of some time ago, becomes a measure of both our knowledge of Jesus and the actions that follow.
For weeks now, I and a growing number of St. Francis parishioners, have been putting our faith into action. We, like Jesus, have been recognizing some of the same sufferings of our brothers and sisters in SA and Bexar County that Jesus confronted. With love, compassion, and mercy, Jesus recognized the ways in which those who had power exercised it was convenient to their way of thinking, their idea of economics, and their view of who should succeed. Jesus challenges and confronts; Jesus creates tension with those who have power and authority. Jesus acts to change the policies that kept people outside, separated from access to the fullness of life.
What was the disciples’ task, having recognized the risen Lord, and having seen that he “opened their minds to understand the scripture,”? Is our task now to preach the good news of God’s mercy and goodness to all? Is it our task to act on those teachings?
This Sunday from 3-4:30, citizens of all faiths, from all over the city will hold candidates for public office accountable for priorities that I feel confident Jesus would support. COPS/Metro leaders have spent many hours during this past year advocating for gardeners, and strangers, and “ghosts.” Ghosts can simply be the people we “don’t see” because we never go to their part of town.
In this past year, during this time of isolation, I realize that I have come to know my brothers and sisters on all sides of town through action with them. Now that I know them, I cannot turn away. I have “recognized them” in “breaking open the word” of Scripture.
I may not need or benefit from what they are asking for; but because we are the “community that holds all things in common” from Acts of the Apostles and the “beloved community”—our relationship to each other that activists (people who act on values, priorities, and love for each other) ACT on. To know them is to advocate for them—to live God’s commands of love of neighbor.
Putting the Gospel into action this week means that I will be at that Accountability Session on Sunday afternoon. I invite you to join me and others from our parish.
Here is the Zoom link to register: www.copsmetro.com/accountability_20210418
Here are the priorities identified that we are asking support for: http://sfasat.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/COPSMetro-Issues-Agenda.pdf
The Easter AWE!
“The community of believers was of one heart and one mind…” I know without a doubt that all of us learned something about ourselves during this past year. We learned it about ourselves as individuals, as couples, as families, as a parish community, as a compassionate city, as a country, and as world citizens, as explorers of the universe. Did we get closer to being of “one heart and one mind” as Jesus envisioned life after His resurrection?
Jesus was so present to his disciples. He showed them the way. To reinforce the witness He had given, the teaching He had done, the ways of being with them, He spent even more time with them. He had them experience the power that they had to heal, to show mercy, to care for all. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles does just that. They held all things in common and everyone had all they needed.
This “holding all things in common” is a real struggle for us. Perhaps we have had inklings of what that is like as we shared during the ice storm in mid-February. Perhaps we get glimpses of that knowing that we can care for migrant children who come here with nothing. Perhaps those who have had COVID-19 are sharing their blood to provide antibodies for those who are fighting the virus.
As we enter the time of recognizing signs of “new life”—the meaning of resurrection—we are being given opportunities to name the ways that we can be of “one heart and one mind” and to “hold all things in common.” During this time of Jesus’ reinforcement of His teachings, the boosters that He gave His disciples, we too are entering into a new journey, a new way of being community.
We don’t know exactly what that looks like or feels like. All we know is that we have been waiting, we have been learning, God has been working in our lives. It is time as we journey to Pentecost to open our minds and our hearts to how we want to be with each other in the future. We can’t go back to the past, the way it was. It is a different time. We are different. We have the opportunity to re-connect, to renew relationships, and to form new ones. What are we willing to do, who are we willing to be when we too have the opportunity to live and to be as the community described in ACTS?
This is our call to be witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus. Only then can we call ourselves disciples. Only then do we enter into the dance of discipleship: Accompany, Welcome, and Encourage—the very real AWE of Resurrection!
May we all be filled with AWE!
So You Must Do
Did we fall asleep last night as we entered into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus? Jesus asked that his followers pray and be present, to recognize the anguish of suffering. On the first night of the Holy Triduum, we too were asked to be aware of the suffering of many in our world today, to pay attention, to not fall asleep.
Ron Rolheiser observes that in John’s gospel read last night, we don’t hear about the institution of the Eucharist. The gesture of washing feet replaces that institution. Ron says, “It specifies what the Eucharist is in fact meant to do, namely, to lead us out of church and into the humble service of others.” Jesus modeled a new kind of leadership and service.
Each Sunday, we are sent with words like, “Go forth and live the Gospel.” Yes, we are indeed being led out of church and into service.
“As I have done so you must do.” To bow and to kneel, to act with love and compassion, to recognize the humanity and goodness of all of God’s creation is to do as Jesus did. Jeannine Grammick offers some ways that we wash feet today.
We wash feet when we make a phone call to a friend inviting her to dinner or a party. We wash feet when we smile at a senior citizen and bid him a bright “Good morning”. We wash feet when we scratch the chin of a cat, stroke her fluffy fur, and hear her purr “Thank you”. We wash feet when we write to our Congressperson or the White House to support a proposed bill to enhance human welfare or end violence.” (paxchristiusa.org/2021/03/31/reflection-for-holy-thursday-april-1/)
One of my favorite songs at Easter is “Roll Away the Stone.” Easter 2021 seems the perfect time to acknowledge the need we have to see the Glory of God. Let’s roll away all the stones and tombs depicted here, all the “they have been saying” and proclaim new life! We rise too when we cast away the stones and the tombs in our lives. Let it be so this Easter!
These are the lyrics to “Roll Away the Stone”
They have been saying all our plans are empty.
They have been saying “Where is their God now?”
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.
They have been saying no one will remember.
They have been saying Power rules the world.
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.
They have been saying no one hears the singing.
They have been saying all our strength is gone.
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.
They have been saying “All of us are dying.”
They have been saying “All of us are dead.”
Roll away the stone see the Glory of God. Roll away the stone.
Living the Way of the Cross
The Way of the Cross, or the Stations of the Cross, a devotional prayer of the Catholic Church, has taken on new meaning for many of us during this past year—what many of us call not just a season of Lent, but also a YEAR of Lent! As I recall the events of this past year and hear the reading of the Passion of Jesus, I am reminded of the ways in which the Way of Jesus has come to focus in the grief and suffering of so many. For many of us, this year has awakened us. Like the disciples, we have fallen asleep to so much.
When I was teaching high school religion, I would ask my students to create their own Stations of the Cross using modern images of how we identify with suffering. Who and how are people today condemned to death? Who are their accusers? How are people today stripped of their dignity, called names, spat on, whipped, and tortured? In what ways do people fall, over and over again, being forced to “carry a cross?” Who are the persons who help to carry the cross? Who offers to “wipe the face of Jesus?” Who among us have been burying the dead? Who dies by execution today? Who keeps watch over the graves? Who stays with, persists in attention, and believes in resurrection?
In Jerusalem, people walk the Via Dolorosa, places designated as stopping points to pray and remember in the midst of all the busyness of the streets, the vendors, the residences, the churches. The way of the cross is in the midst of the realities of our lives.
Each Lent, I look for different versions of the Stations of the Cross—those that have meaning for me in the midst of life. This year I was caught sleeping about many ways of seeing others. Here are two that I suggest.
April 2, 2021 at noon – Good Friday Stations of the Cross with FutureChurch Staff
Write on My Heart
What is God writing on my heart these days? I often hear people use the expression, “it was on my heart today.” That expression is usually followed by some act of kindness, of remembrance, of love, of compassion. During this past year, I believe that God has been keeping the covenant of love alive in our hearts in bounteous and extravagant, compelling, and challenging ways.
We have been a light to each other, a life-line at many times and in many ways. We have connected with family and neighbors, with workers and strangers in very personal ways. We have strengthened our bonds of being in this together.
I have also been listening to many of my sisters and brothers who are reflecting on the paschal mystery in their lives. What is the suffering, death, and resurrection that we have experienced, personally and in common, during this year of life? Providentially, we are given readings that remind us that Jesus too “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” What have been our most frequent prayers and supplications? How have we cried out both for ourselves and others? For whom have we shed tears? Ourselves, others, strangers?
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This Sunday, we are invited to reflect on what we put into the ground, what did we let go of, bury? And are we seeing signs of new life? Have we been changed? Do we have new priorities? Do we think differently about our relationships? Have we pushed fear aside and been emboldened to learn to talk to people who are “different” from us, who weren’t part of our circle of friends in the past? What has God been writing on our hearts? With whom do we choose to share that? How will our seed planting bring new life to our families, to our church, to our country?
Listen to David Kauffman’s music and lyrics here:
Quit That Site; Quit That Sight
Just one month ago, we all had the experience of living in darkness due to the power grid outage! It wasn’t a choice; we were subjected to it. This was physical darkness, something we endured. How did we handle it? How did we change as a result of that experience? The slogan of The Christopher’s is “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” We certainly lit many candles. Amazing Grace, a very popular song, repeats the refrain, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Perhaps we had tangible experiences of seeing many things in a different way. Certainly, we learned of the plight of many of our brothers and sisters in the city who experience utility insecurity on a daily basis. Our St. Vincent de Paul volunteers hear the stories of many of our brothers and sisters who live in constant fear of having their “lights cut off.”
Darkness is not something that we seek, unless we are suffering from a migraine headache. But darkness does provide an opportunity for many things to “come to light.”
Those of us who are part of the learning community called “Adult Faith Formation” recently viewed Bishop Robert Barron’s talk given at the virtual LA Religious Education Conference. He named social media as one opportunity we are given to choose light over darkness. In his talk, he challenged us to post the gifts of the Holy Spirit next to our viewing screen. If the site we are visiting, Facebook, Netflix, cable TV, or anything we are viewing, doesn’t bring us joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, or gentleness, he suggests that we quit that site. If we are experiencing conflict, anger, jealousy, hatred, dishonesty, divisiveness, untruthfulness, and selfishness among other “works of the flesh,” we probably have confirmation of the need to quit that site. We need to take it out of our sight!
In the Gospel of John for this weekend, we read: “…. The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
May this season of Lent be a time when we recognize increasingly what it means to choose to live in the Light of Christ. Merciful God, give us the courage to do so each day!
Our Common Thirst?
As he meets the woman, Jesus is not afraid to admit “I’m thirsty,” and to suggest, “Thirst makes friends of us all.” Later, he even proclaims to her, “God is not on the mountaintop—but in your thirst!” What are we thirsting for? Friendship? Acceptance? Community? Forgiveness? Healing? Boldness? Economic security? Biblical justice? Human dignity for all? How is our thirst inviting us to open more deeply to God?
Imagine the shock of encountering what seems like a suspicious stranger. The woman (nameless, worthless, having a “reputation”) has done everything to avoid encountering anyone. The stranger asks her for a drink. Their common thirst establishes a relationship. Both are thirsty. The desire to receive from each other—remember Jesus asks for a drink from her. He needs her. He pursues her, even in her resistance. He heals her wounds with words of acceptance—knowing everything about her—and still, he offers her a gift—living water. She receives from him, a stranger, someone she believes despises her.
When are we the recipients of life-giving water? Where in our lives are we experiencing something being brought back to life? Relationships, activities, the environment, hope in a future? Where or who is the well that provides the springs of living water?
How are you like this woman? How do you differ from her? If you met this woman, what would you want to say to her?
Anything can happen at a well. Thirst makes friends of us all. Can we find the well? Can we receive from a stranger? Can we find God there? Do we want to?
As a closing prayer, listen here.