Monday, September 13, 2010

Why be perfect, or even strive to be perfect? It takes all the joy out of heaven. In Luke 15:7 Jesus says their is great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner. God does not expect us to be perfect. Repentant is sufficient. Let heaven have its party over your repentance. Jesus isn't looking for a straight "A" disciple. Such people would have too little compassion for the rest of us.
Where are losers and the lost souls of any value? We tend to term "losers" as people beneath us, and "lost souls" as people too far gone to be helped. We write such people off our social calendar. In Luke 15: 3-7 losers and the lost have great value to the shepherd. We may become lost and not know our way. We may be confused. We may feel stupid over some decision we made that separated us from the group or community. But God never really gives us on us. God never lets us go.
When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, the shepherd does not scold it or punish it, or destroy it. Rather the shepherd has a meal of Thanksgiving, a Eucharist. The shepherd has risked his own life in the wilderness to regain the sheep that had wandered off. Keep that in mind when someone says "God will get you!"
In Luke 9: 11-17 Jesus tells his disciples to feed the people rather than send them away to get food in the market. It might be more efficient and certainly less bothersome to send the people to buy food. Jesus was about training leaders. He was about the transformation of his disciples from followers, talkers, listeners to being leaders. Unless a group takes action, it is just a discussion group, or a classroom experience. Community organizers know this. A lot of people get together and discuss issues and problems of the day. If that is as far as it goes, they just complain and blame, and maybe whine a bit. That is where the disciples are until now. The church is supposed to be led by the laity to change the world, be leaven in the world. The bishops and clergy are not the leaders in this. They have turned inward to church issues of language in the liturgy and who purifies the cups and plates at mass.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

LUKE 14: 25-33

Julie Andrews, the famous singer and performer, recounted that her voice coach kept after her to pronounce her consonants when she sang. Julie knew how to carry a tune, but her coach felt that words were important and an entertainer needed to be understood when they sang. Singing was not just about sounding good. Classes could become boring and tedious with this emphasis on consonants. Maybe Julie felt at times that she "hated" those classes or even "hated" the teacher. The coach was pushing Julie to be all that she could be as a singer. I understand every word she sings. The coach did a good job.

Now go into your typical Catholic parish and listen to the volunteer cantors or choirs. Listen especially to the responsorial psalm, after the first reading. Tell me you can understand what they are singing. Probably not! Why? These people can carry a tune, but no one is directing them to pronounce their consonants. Words sung become unclear, get bunched together or the endings of words drift off into the rafters of the church. If the music director got after these volunteers to pronounce their consonants, the singers might get tired of the tedium, and even begin to say, "I hate this practice." They would quit and the parish music director would be without singers.

I tend to use the word "hate" when people or situations are pushing me to face up to my shortcomings or to stretch myself to become all that I can be. When I went to Mexico to try to learn to speak Spanish, my teachers kept after me to pronounce the words correctly. I was so happy to be able to find the correct Spanish word, but they pushed for accent and pronunciation. At one point I said, "I hate you. I hate these classes." Now I am glad that they pushed me on pronunciation. Did you ever come across a priest from another country who says the correct English word in a homily, but with such a thick accent that you cannot understand him? He was taught grammar and vocabulary, not communication skills.

I used to tell my big sister, Maureen, "I hate you," when she was trying to teach me good habits, such as eating spinach, or not eating treats before supper. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it, and Maureen would have none of that. She taught me good habits for which I am thankful today.

At the monastery, we gather for vigils at 4:30 AM. At times I get up for vigils and say to myself, "I hate vigils." Then I go to vigils and it usually turns out to be a good thing for the feeding of my prayer life. When I work in the fields at the monastery, at times I say I hate some job. It is usually a job that confronts me with my shortcomings, lack of strength, skill or knowledge, all of which rubs up against my fantasies of myself as important and capable, and powerful.

Many people are coming to Jesus in this gospel. He has spoken about all being invited to the feast. He heals. He speaks of love and forgiveness. He goes light on rules. These people are not disciples, any more than baptism makes one a disciple. If you want to be a disciple you will have to learn and practice some discipline in your life and face your own self-centeredness, among other shortcomings. Many of the people who you felt were an irritant in your life, were the exact ones who were trying to stretch you, help you to grow into all you were meant to be. Has not a child at one time or another said to a parent, "I hate you," when the parent was challenging the self-centeredness of the child?

Jesus is looking for people who have learned some discipline in their lives. Jesus can deal with sin. He invites Peter, the sinful man, to follow him. Peter was a fisherman. He had to get up in the middle of each night to go fishing for a living. Maybe Peter at times said, "I hate fishing. I hate fish!" He had confronted his human limitations, weakness, self-centeredness, and much more, in his daily discipline to earn a living. Do not marriage partners rub up against each other's shortcomings, and in doing so challenge one another to grow? Maybe at times they might say or think, "I hate you."

We must confront our foibles and character defects if we are to ever follow Jesus. Otherwise, we drop out when things get tedious, or boring or laborious. We become like the person who had a desire to build a tower, but did not confront their human failings. A person might come to a monastery because "they hate their life" on the outside. They think the monastery is the answer or the more perfect world. They bring their own unreflected selves, maybe spoiled by too little discipline. When the monastery becomes routine, boring, laborious, the monk leaves. At times, we leave things rather than face ourselves.

The cross to which Jesus refers, might very well be our own lives, our own imperfections and shortcomings. Jesus will love us unconditionally. Maybe his hope is that such love will give us the strength and wisdom to face openly many of those people and situations that we 'Hate."