Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God's Presence in the Holidays

I hope amidst all the holiday bargains and Santas everywhere that we also remember Thanksgiving and the many ways God has blessed us.  I'm always reminded, especially during this time of year, of the many people who are lonely, depressed, unemployed, struggling in any way, and those who are grieving a loss of any kind, whether it be a loss of a loved one, a loss of a physical ability, a loss because of a natural disaster, or any kind of loss.

It's not always easy to approach the holidays.  Society tells us to be cheerful during this time, but depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves that may not always be possible.  Hopefully, for those who find the holidays difficult, there can be comfort in knowing that God is always present. 

Christ knows how we feel for he too suffered, but rose again.  Our suffering in this world, no matter how great, is only temporary.  We are never alone for God is embracing us and continually showering us with love.  Are we open to feeling God's embrace and receiving God's love?

Whether we look forward to the holidays or find these times difficult, let us pray that we may grow in awareness of God's love and presence here with us always.

May you be blessed this Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday, November 15, 2013

John 15:1-8

Reflection:  Feast of St. Gertrude

            There are some things in our world that are so connected that it is hard to think of one and not also think of the other.  Like salt and pepper, macaroni and cheese.  The two are closely connected and are a pair.  People are like that too.  When you think of someone, you may immediately connect them with the work they do or a product they have made.  Bill Gates is connected with Microsoft, Steve Jobs with Apple computers, and the Manning brothers with football.

            When I was growing up, we had a priest in my hometown who helped us renovate our church.  We would have always connected him with the renovation if it weren’t for the fact that when he left, he said he did not want to be remembered as the priest who painted the church, he wanted to be remembered as the priest who loved.  He did not want his connection to be to a certain action in his life, but rather to a way of life, a way of being. 

            When we think of ourselves, with what do we see ourselves connected?  Are we so connected to Jesus that the Gospel passage rings true, “Remain in me as I remain in you.”  St. Gertrude whose feast we celebrate today, knew this connection well.  She said to God, “I can find no pleasure in anything on earth save in yourself alone, my sweetest Lord.”  To this, God responded, “And in the same way, I find nothing in heaven or on earth which could please me without you” (The Classics of Western Spirituality, Gertrude of Helfta:  The Herald of Divine Love, 1993). 

When people see us and speak with us, do they see Christ?  Is Christ so alive within us, and we are so connected with Christ that it is impossible to tell where I end and Christ begins?  St. Paul knew this connection well when he wrote in Galatians, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  John the Baptist was also aware of this connection.  “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  When people see us, do they see the work we do or the products we make or do these things lead them to something greater than ourselves?  Do they see much more in our words and actions?  Do they see Christ?  Do they experience love?    

            There’s a story of a man who went to the doctor and was told he had 3 years to live.  You can imagine the shock he experienced.  He decided he was going to live life to the fullest.  He was kinder than he had ever been before.  He was gentler.  The things that people said or did that would bother him in the past did not bother him anymore.  He saw people in need and helped them.  He gave away all the nonessentials in his life.  People noticed a huge difference in his personality and behavior.  They were drawn to him.  He was now connected to Christ.  He saw Christ in the people around him, and people saw Christ in him.  Christ remained in him.  He lived in such a way that Christ radiated through him, through his words and actions. 

            After some time, the man went back to the doctor, and the doctor said, “Great news!  We have found a cure.  You will have a complete recovery.”  This was great news to the doctor, but it wasn’t for the man.  He began to cry.  He was afraid he would slip back to his old ways.

            Christ is always with us, all around us, ready for us to bear much fruit if we remain in him and allow him to remain in us.  Remaining in Christ is like a fish remaining in water.  Water is the life source for the fish.  Christ is our life source to God.  We remain in Christ as Christ remains in God.  Without Christ, we can do nothing. 

            To remain in Christ, we cannot just stay at the surface level and be satisfied.  There’s a story of a little boy who fell out of bed.  When asked why he fell out, he said, “I guess I just stayed too close to where I got in.”  We continue our journey to God, not satisfied with staying at the surface level, but growing more fully aware of God’s love and presence with us and around us. 

The priest in my hometown did not want to be remembered as the priest who painted the church, but rather as the priest who loved.  When people see us, what do they see?  Do they see the Gospel passage being lived, “Remain in me as I remain in you.”  Do they see Christ so alive in us that they no longer see us, but Christ who lives within us? 

Friday, November 1, 2013

How Shall We Pray?

Wednesday's Mass reading from Romans 8:26-30 is a reading that I rely on heavily.  "The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings . . . ." 

Oftentimes I don't know what to pray for.  The farmers may be praying for rain while the families that have an outing planned pray for clear weather.  Who does God listen to?  Are certain people more important than others so their prayers go to the top of the priority list?  Certainly not.  God hears all our prayers and answers them according to our need. 

We don't always know what to pray for, but God knows is best.  I can give my preferences, of course, of how I want things to be, but it may end up something like this, "Dear God, we could use some rain right now, but could you make it after 7:00 pm and before 6:00 am and only in these certain areas.  I'd like a nice steady rain.  No damage please and make sure everyone has shelter."  There may be certain ways I think things should be, but they may not be the best.  My image is limited. 

I think the story of the kids who sat at their grandma's feet while she worked on some cross-stitching is a good example of how God works.  From the underneath side, nothing made sense.  It didn't look like much of anything.  There was no pattern at all.  From the top, however, was a beautiful design. 

This is much like our life.  Our image may not be clear because we can't see the whole picture.  We don't know how the threads of life are woven together to make God's design.  Our image is limited.  We see only the underneath side while on top the threads are arranged in such a way that it makes a beautiful design.

What should I pray for?  Should I pray for someone to get better or that they have a peaceful death?  Do I pray for someone to get a job?  What if there's a better one right around the corner?  God knows what we need.  I pray simply that God's will be done and that I am accepting of that will.

Help me, O God, to accept your will and not my own.  Holy Spirit, fill my heart and teach me to pray.