Sunday, January 29, 2012

All We Need Is Love

I often think of the homily that a priest back in my home parish gave right before he was transferred to another parish. This priest had overseen the renovation of our church. Under his direction, the church received a much needed paint job along with decorative stenciling and new carpeting.

He said, however, in his final homily that he did not want to be remembered as the priest who got the walls painted; he wanted to be remembered as a person who loved.

How do you think people will remember you? How do you want to be remembered? Are the 2 the same? If not, what needs to change?

I'm reading a book now that is all about love. It speaks of becoming the best version of ourselves and helping others to become the best version of themselves. In the whole scheme of things, love is the only thing that matters in life.

We hear that people won't remember what we said or did, but they will remember how we made them feel. Are we spreading love to all those we meet? Are we helping others become their best self? Will we be remembered as a person who loved?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening

When you get a chance, look at the First Reading for Wednesday, January 11 (1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20). I love the story of Samuel being called by God. Samuel doesn't know it is the voice of God. Each time he wakes up, goes to Eli, and answers, "Here I am." Eli sends Samuel back to sleep until he realizes the 3rd time that it is God calling. When he is called a fourth time, Samuel is told to answer, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."

What a wonderful model on how to live our lives. May we, too, hear and recognize the voice of God. May we, like Samuel, answer, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. May we, like Eli, help others to hear the voice of God more clearly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wrestling Angels or Battling Demons?

I love the story in Genesis 32 about Jacob wrestling with the angel. Here is the man who is to become the patriarch of Israel, the father of the twelve tribes, and the night before he is to meet his estranged brother Esau, he wrestles until dawn with a man who ultimately wrenches his hip out of the socket and won't tell him his name. He blesses Jacob and renames him Israel, telling him that he has "striven with beings divine and human, and [has] prevailed" (Gen 32:28).

I can imagine Jacob's fear of meeting his brother. He earlier had stolen Esau's birthright, and he has every reason to presume Esau would hate him. At this point in the story, Jacob has gathered all kinds of gifts for his brother, hoping against hope to be forgiven. Perhaps on this night, he wrestles both physically and figuratively with God, wanting to do the right thing and yet being terrified that things might go completely wrong. He wrestles, and manages to do the right thing. He survives, both the angel and his brother.

I think we wrestle with God, too. Like Jacob, we want to make peace with those who ought to be closest to us. We want to set things right. We want to do the right thing. And yet the unknown possibilities can be so frightening. We don't always know how people will receive us. And yet we take the plunge. Like Jacob, sometimes we come out of these experiences with God wounded but blessed, perhaps even given a new name, marked by our encounter with the holy.

Spiritual battle also can be with more deadly forces. In the Gospels, Jesus casts out demons right and left, freeing people who have been bound. While we may not see people being "possessed" by evil in the Hollywood sense of things, battling demons is still something we have to deal with, too. In the Eastern monastic tradition, Evagrius Ponticus writes of the eight thoughts, which are the precursor to what we now know as the seven deadly sins. Actions begin with thoughts in our mind, and so the devil first works to get into our head. Thus we have to deal with temptations to lust, greed, anger, vainglory, pride, sloth, acedia (a listless sense of boredom with life), envy, gluttony, and the rest. The challenge is to nip the bad thoughts in the bud. Do we nurture thoughts that will lead us down a road to bad actions and ultimately the death of our soul, or do we dash bad thoughts against Christ, as St. Benedict suggests, and nurture more life-giving thoughts, which give rise to virtue and good actions?

This kind of battle can be as simple as choosing the moderation of one cookie instead of two, or it can be as frought with danger as choosing to be faithful to a life commitment in the face of real problems and painful difficulties. Whether what we face be a small matter or large, the feelings of weakness and powerlessness sometimes can be overwhelming. Yet the message of the Gospel is that Christ has defeated evil. With Christ, we can overcome temptation. Even if we fail sometimes, the mercy and love of God outweigh our sins. Ultimately, we never are alone. God is with us, Emmanuel, and if we allow God to take the lead, everything will be okay.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Epiphany blessing

20 + C + M + B + 12

That's the inscription written in chalk on the monastery entrance doorway. Following a long tradition of blessing homes in conjunction with the celebration of the feast of Epiphany, Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, prioress, marked the doorway and blessed the sisters gathered in the Blessed Virgin Room at the entrance before Evening Prayer. The letters represent Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May Christ bless this house) and also the names of the three kings, the magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. And the current year, 2012 is inscribed before and after the crosses. The ritual ended with this prayer: Lord, you revealed your Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this monastery, our home, and all of us who dwell here. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness of spirit, and reverence of your word. Fill us with the light of Christ that our concerns for others may reflect your love.

(Sister Paulette Seng)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Every year, Michigan's Lake Superior State University puts out a list of overused, misused, and cliched words that they think should be retired. Some of the words this year include ginormous and mancave.

It is interesting how words or phrases change over time. I remember when we used to say, "That's bad," to really mean something was good. For awhile "bad" meant "good." I don't remember what we'd say if something actually was bad. That is, bad is in bad, not bad as in good.

I unknowingly use words that the kids haven't always heard. I told the kids one year that they could wear "slacks" to the Christmas program. One girl went home and asked her mom what slacks were. I probably confused other kids too without realizing it.

We were singing a song one time about "Little Sally Walker sitting in a saucer." I asked the kids if they knew what a saucer was. Many had no idea. They thought of a flying saucer and had a few other guesses, but I had to explain it to them. I guess most kids don't have tea parties anymore.

I asked the kids one time if they had ever seen a sewing machine. Only 2 or 3 out of the class of 20 something had ever seen a sewing machine. I explained what a sewing machine does, and we examined the stitching on our clothing.

The 2nd grade teacher one year wanted me to show the kids a record player. They were fascinated by this antique.

Times do change, and life goes on. Nowadays, things advance so quickly that it's hard (if not impossible) to keep up. New technologies are created all the time. I do my best to try to understand my students and their ever evolving vocabulary just as I'm sure they do their best to understand me and my archaic language.