Many of you may remember one of Chicago’s more colorful mayors: Richard Daily. He ruled the Windy City with an iron fist for 21 years from 1955 to 1976. Those who worked for him often found his abrasive personality hard to take.
The story is told that one day, one of His Honor’s speechwriters sheepishly made his way to the mayor’s office to ask for a raise – which he had not had in several years.
Mayor Daily responded to the request by saying: “I’m not going to give you a raise. You are getting paid more than enough already.
The fact that you are working for a great American hero like myself should be reward enough for you.” And thus ended the conversation.
A few weeks later, Mayor Daley was on his way to give a speech to a convention of veterans. The speech was scheduled to receive national attention. In order to seem a bit spontaneous, Daley made the practice of never reading his speeches before the event – this one was no exception.
As he stood before a vast crowd of veterans, and nationwide press coverage, the mayor opened his speech for the first time and began.
“I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m concerned for you and for your families. My heart goes out to you because I am deeply troubled by how our country fails to take care of you. So today, I am proposing a 17 point plan that includes the city, state, and federal government on how to better care for our veterans.”
By now, everyone was on the edge of their seats to hear what the proposal entailed. Mayor Daley turned to the next page of the speech and saw only these words: “Now you are completely on your own-------- you great American hero. . .”
No matter how great or how small we are – no matter how important or how insignificant ---- none of us can go it alone --- we all need help. We need advocates who work behind the scenes to make us who we are. We need people who motivate us, guide us, sustain us and lift us up – especially in moments of fear and frustration.
Here in this parish of St. Patrick – I do get to work with lots of people who, when we all work together -- make this parish great – and yes, sometimes working with such gifted people is reward enough. . .
I minister alongside our Deacons: Mike Lewis and Jim Koger. Our principal, Kaci Monaghan and the wonder faculty and staff she has gathered together to make our school an awesome place – even when we have to do distance-learning.
Lily Winklejohn, who is new to our Early Childhood Center and doing wonderful things.
Robin Lamb, our liturgist and business manager keeps us humming along at liturgy and financially – making sure our bills are paid, and music is played.
Lisa Angotti puts out the bulletin, works on keeping our website updated, and keeps our team happy with their salaries and benefits.
And Mindy Lehman helps to make sure the young church is ready to receive sacraments, and others are formed in our Catholic faith.
No one of us does this alone. . . We all work together to ensure St. Patrick is a place people want to belong to --- these are the advocates I have ---and you have---- to make all that happens in this parish possible – especially during the challenging times we have had during the covid pandemic.
Jesus says in the Gospel today: “I will not leave you orphans – I will ask the Father to give you an Advocate – to be with you always.
On our journey through life as a Christian – none of us has to be alone – no one of us has to do everything – we have a community of faith that uplifts us – the Holy Spirit that empowers us --- and a God who loves us so much – God sent his son to free us from our sins and gain for us eternal life. . .
Let us always rely on our Advocates – in our families, in our Church, within our faith – and also the saintly men and women who have gone before us – to motivate us, guide us, sustain us, and lift us up – especially in moments of fear and frustration.
And now a true story of one who learned well the power of an Advocate. . . a woman by the name of Sheila Walsh who tell us:
The first weeks of my pregnancy were a blur of absolute joy. I told complete strangers that I was pregnant. I read books to the wee one I was carrying and played an assortment of songs to see if he or she was more country or pop.
At our sonogram, we learned the baby was a boy and we were so happy.
Then one phone call interrupted our happiness. I would be 40-years-old when the baby was born – and my doctor had asked for some additional tests.
When the results came back, she asked us to come to her office. My husband, Barry and I, sat on one side of her desk as she sat on the other with a brown folder in front of her.
I don’t remember everything she said, but I remember this: “Your baby is incompatible with life.”
I stared at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. This was a phrase I had never heard before. Neither Barry or I said anything. We were stunned.
The doctor went on to explain about “markers” and “abnormalities” and what my results showed. I could see her mouth moving, but I felt as if I had a glass dome over my head and I could not hear her.
Then she said that she recommended a termination of the pregnancy – the next day! I heard that, and her words snapped me back to reality. “NO”, I loudly said. “Absolutely NOT. This little one will have every day God has planned for him to live.”
We drove home in silence. There was really nothing to say.
For the next couple of weeks, I was tormented with one thought: I had begged God to give me a child – and now God was going to take him away before we had a chance to love him. . . why?
I felt as if I were falling into a dark hole. Some days I felt angry, others I was overwhelmed with sorrow. One day turned the tide for me.
I woke up early and drove to the beach. The beach was deserted; my only companions were seagulls.
I took off my shoes and walked to the edge of the water and prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed before, out loud to the wind and the waves and the gulls.
Jesus. I said. My heart is aching. I don’t understand this at all, but I just want to declare here and now that we are in this together. I’ve always needed you, but I know right now that I need you more than I ever have. I don’t know how this will end, but I’m not letting go of you for one moment. You did not promise me happiness, but you did promise you would never leave me. I’m not letting go. I’m not giving up – we are in this together!
From that time on, something inside me shifted. I had no idea how long I could carry our son, but I became relentless in my prayers, not for a perfect outcome but for the presence of a perfect Advocate.
At 35 weeks, my doctor called. I held my breath.
She told me that the day MY results had come back – so had the results of another 40 year old patient. My results had gone into her chart and hers into mine.
There had NEVER been anything wrong with our son. I fell to my knees and thanked God, but then I prayed for the mother who would be getting a very different phone call.
I believe in the sovereignty of God – and I’ve often wondered if I was allowed to carry this other mother’s burden for a while. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that when my heart was breaking, I learned to hold on to God as I never had before in my life.
Mrs. Sheila Walsh concludes: I don’t know what battle you are facing right now – what burdens you are carrying. It may be for your child, your marriage, your health, you sanity, your family or community – but I do want you to know this: no one has to carry those burdens alone! Pray and don’t give up – cling to those you love – rely on those who sustain you and lift you up. Know that you are not alone! Know that you have Advocates cheering you on. . .
If last week was considered good shepherd Sunday – a Sunday on which priests are traditionally recognized as the shepherds of their parishes – than this week should be considered servant Sunday – or a Sunday on which we recognize the service that DEACONS give to our parish and Church. . .
Because in that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the young Christian community in Jerusalem choosing the first seven deacons to serve the needs of the community.
So I want all of you, to join me – in recognizing and thanking the service our two deacons – Mike Lewis and Jim Koger do for our community of St. Patrick – and the outreach of ministry they do beyond our parish boundaries.
Those first deacons were chosen because they were reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom. We won’t dispute the point that our two deacons are also!
So, two men were walking through the woods when they came across a very large, deep hole.
They wanted to see how deep it really was – so they tossed in some small rocks and waited to hear the sound of them hitting the bottom. But they heard no sound.
So then they decided to throw in some bigger rocks. And, again, they heard no sound.
Looking around they noticed a rather large log at the edge of the woods. They went over and dragged the log to the hole and threw it in. Not a sound came from the hole.
But suddenly, a goat appeared, running like the wind. It rushed toward the two men, went right past them, running just as fast as it could. Suddenly, the goat leaps into the air and into the hole.
The two men just looked at each other, totally astonished – trying to figure out what they had just seen . . .
Soon after their unsettling experience, out of the woods came a farmer who spotted the two men and ran over to them. He asked them if they had seen a goat.
“You bet we did,” answered the two in unison. “and it was the craziest thing we ever saw. It came running out of the woods and just jumped into that big deep hole over here.”
“Well, that would not have been my goat,” the farmer said. “My goat was chained to a big log.”
So unfortunately for the goat – the only reason it ended up in the big hole – was that it was tied to the log that the two men chose to throw into the hole.
The question for us today and throughout our lives is --- what are we tied to and where is it pulling us??
Oh we all have something we are tied to. . . for some it is work, for others possessions, and others it is wealth or a lifestyle.
For some it is an addiction: drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating or shopping.
For others they are tied to an emotion, like anger or revenge. . . or tied to something in their past they just can’t turn loose of.
For far too many of us it is being locked into one’s own life – with little or no concern for others – like those whose needs were being neglected in Jerusalem.
Jesus reminded the disciples in today’s Gospel – and so reminds us – that the only thing we should be TIED to, with any kind of unbendable or unbreakable commitment --- is Him.
Jesus says, “You have faith in God: HAVE FAITH ALSO IN ME!
And if we are tied to Jesus, if we have faith in him – then we need not be afraid because we will abound with God’s love.
If we are one with Christ, our hearts will not be troubled because Christ will touch our hearts and lead us in our journey of life. To be one with Christ, to remain in Christ, to have faith in Christ – is not to be dragged down – for in Christ we can only be raise up!
In life it is so easy to be tied to THINGS that can ultimately only destroy us. Christ asks us throughout this Easter season to not let that happen to us. Rather let us be tied to Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life. Christ in whom our hearts find rest and our lives discover the new life that God offers to us each and every day.
Or, as St. Peter tells us in his letter today:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own --- so that you can announce the praises of Christ: who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
And to that we say: Alleluia!
It is odd, I think --- that on these Sundays following Easter during the year we are to be mostly reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew – we don’t read St. Matthew’s Gospel. . .
We did read Matthew’s account of the Resurrection on Easter, then we have 4 Sundays in the Easter season when we read from John’s Gospel, one Sunday from St. Luke’s Gospel – and we will read again from St. Matthew’s Gospel on the feast of the Ascension.
But then it is back to St. John for Pentecost and the two feasts that follow – then, finally back to St. Matthew when we get to the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time on June 21st – which seems like a long way off (maybe we will be back together by then!).
But that’s just the way--- not--- just this Easter season works – but also other Easter seasons in other years –we always read a good dose of St. John’s Gospel.
St. John structures his Gospel around seven statements of Jesus – which all begin with Jesus saying “I AM” – which of course gives us insight into who Jesus is.
In the course of this year – when we celebrate Sunday Mass – we hear five of these seven statements –
We already heard one – back on the 5th Sunday of Lent when Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the grave – and Jesus told Lazarus’ sister, Martha: “I AM: the resurrection and the life.”
Next Sunday we get one – when Jesus tells the apostle Thomas: “I AM: the way, the truth and the life.”
On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ on June 14th: we will have another of these sayings, when Jesus tells the crowds: “ I AM: the living bread come down from heaven.”
And, as you may have already figured out – we heard two of Jesus’ I AM sayings in today’s Gospel:
“I AM the sheep gate // and // I AM the good shepherd.”
So every 4th Sunday of Easter, no matter what the year -- is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because in each of the three years of the lectionary – we read a part of John’s Gospel in which Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd.
Over my 30+ years of preaching, without fail, that is the image I have always focused on and preached about – that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep, following obediently after him.
But this year, I wanted to pay attention and focus on the other I AM saying we hear today – the one that is so easily passed over:
when Jesus tells us: “I AM the gate to the sheepfold – and whoever does not enter through the gate, is a thief and a robber. . .”
In addressing the rural folk gathered to hear him speak that day – Jesus knew the image that would come immediately to the minds of his hearers when he said, I AM the gate.
In Jesus day, a shepherd was literally the gate or the door to the sheepfold. . . When sheep were kept in a town or village, there was a pen with a real gate.
But when the sheep were grazing out in the fields and on the hillsides – at night, for protection – the shepherd created a makeshift sheep fold with branches and brambles.
Once the sheep were safely in the fold, the shepherd himself (as shepherds were always men) would lie across the opening – so the shepherd was literally the gate – and as the gate, the shepherd could control the coming and going of the sheep and keep the flock safe from wolves and other predators.
So, what do we know about doors and gates? And I include doors because in Greek – door and gate are the same word. . . they are portals: exothrya
We know, for instance -- that there are all types of doors and gates – all sizes, all materials, some are warm and welcoming – others are cold and frightening.
We know that doors and gates keep us safe. We know they always lead us somewhere. We know that they indicate movement in our lives – when we pass through a door or gate we are going from one place to another – the portal connects us to what is next.
We know that doors and gates might reveal a mystery on the other side – as we never know for sure what we may find on the other side.
If we do understand that doors and gates, portals – lead us somewhere and indicate movement in our lives then---- education, is certainly a door. . . so is opportunity, and even sheltering in place can be a portal – leading us somewhere we may not have expected – because we would have never chosen it on our own. .
If we understand that portals lead us somewhere, and indicate movement in our lives – then should we not also consider prayer a door or gate – or service, or faith, or baptism, or Eucharist?? Because all lead us somewhere. . . helping us to become someone we weren’t before. . .
Last week we used the power of our imaginations to understand the Emmaus story just a bit better – let’s do the same with the image of a door or gate – the portals of our lives:
If I allow my mind to wander, some of the images that come to my mind are:
--The door to the house where I grew up-- in Southern Indiana – it was black, and had three windows across the top. An image for me of home/warmth/acceptance/love/safety.
--I picture the gate to one of our barnyards that a bull once tried to jump over – but didn’t quite clear --- and so it bent the gate down in the middle.
My mom took a picture of my little brother in his superman cape with his hands on the gate – as if he bent it down! So an image of strength/destruction/ and family frivolity. Maybe even of abandon/curiosity/and recklessness if we focus on the bull. . .
--I picture the doors of the churches I have belonged to or have led. So images of faith/belonging/community/peace and serenity.
--I can imagine the little doors of an Advent calendar – images of surprise/assurance/anticipation/ presents – s-e-n-t-s and presence – s-e-n-c-e.
--I can picture a prison door – so an image of being frightened/locked in/confined.
--I can imagine a friend of mine who is a bouncer at a bar – so a human gate, like a shepherd – allowing some to come in while keeping others out –
Fortunately I never picture Jesus as a bouncer– for Jesus is always welcoming us into the fold. . .
Although, unfortunately, I can picture some Church officials with their rules and regulations as bouncers: allowing some in – and keeping others out. . . If the Church strives to be a field hospital as Pope Francis calls us to be – then everyone should at least get their foot in the door of our Churches. . .
So if portals: gates and doors – indicate movement in our lives – and lead us somewhere – where does Jesus – who says I am the gate to the sheepfold: lead us?
Well, Jesus leads us to God – and to the Father’s house (as he will tell us next week).
Jesus leads us to abundant life. To eternal life. To a better life than we could ever dream of.
Only when we live in Christ – only when we enter through him – who is the gate to the sheepfold – does life on this earth truly become worth living, and life in the world to come is truly fulfilled.
There is no easy way into the sheepfold – if we think we are just going to hop over the hedgerow – then we are thieves or robbers – we don’t really belong. . . The only way in is through Jesus – and as Jesus told us many times in the course of his earthly life – the way to follow him – is to take up our cross – daily. May God give us the grace we need to do this – so that we can walk clearly and confidently --- in the light of Christ.
On behalf of myself and our deacons: Jim Koger and Mike Lewis.
Our principal: Kaci Monaghan
Early childhood director: Lily Winkeljohn
Finance Director & Liturgist: RobinLamb
Religious Education Director: Mindy Lehman
Office Administrator: Lisa Angotti –
I wish all of you a happy and holy Easter! We are glad you chose to spend part of your day with us here at St. Patrick – and probably cannot say this enough: BUT YOUR ARE MISSED!
Easter is certainly a day for celebrating HOPE—and so we HOPE for the day when we can all be together, again: IN PERSON!
Until then, stay safe, stay well, stay holy – and stay sane!!
Yes, it has been a stressful time for us all – so I thought today would be a good day to have just a little fun with the very important celebration we have today – by reading a story:
Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day!
By Carol Benoist & Cathy Gilmore
Illustrated by Jonathan Sundy
Hi! I’m the Easter Bunny. But I wasn’t always the Easter Bunny. . .
Can I tell you my story?
Long ago, when I was just a little bunny, I lived with my mama, my papa, and my brothers and sisters. . . LOTS of brothers and sisters!
We lived in a really beautiful garden, and we had plenty of yummy grass to eat.
I had young animal friends to play with too. My best friend was a mouse. He was really good at hide and go seek. I was just really good at. . .hiding.
You see, I had a problem. I was afraid. . .
Of nearly everything, nearly all the time. I was afraid of the DARK. I was afraid of THUNDER. LIGHTNING. SHADOWS. CROWDS. And especially HORSES.
One time, I had to dart out from under a horse’s pounding hoof when a group of riders came galloping through the garden.
I was so scared. . . I shivered, and I could hardly eat for a week.
The only thing scarier than horses was the dark and gloomy CAVE at the corner of the garden.
I could never go in it.
One time, everything I was afraid of happened in the same day.
It started with riders on horses yelling at a crowd of people going past the garden.
Later on, it drew Dark. . . in the middle of the day!
Then there was a tremendous Storm with Thunder and Lightning.
Even the ground shook under me.
I didn’t know where to go. I had to hide somewhere, so I ran. . . right into the cave!
I cowered in the corner for a long. . . long time.
Later the storm ended, and a group of people came into the cave holding torches.
They brought a man wrapped in white cloths and laid him on a flat piece of rock.
Then they all went out.
Before I could move, they rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the cave, and I was stuck inside. . . IN THE DARK!
I was in there for three days with the man wrapped in the white cloth.
There was something about him.
At least I wasn’t alone.
Then, the most amazing thing happened.
The cave filled with a light so bright I could barely see.
The man got up.
The light was coming from him. He glowed.
There was a sound of air swoosshhing into the cave like the room was taking a deep breath of the freshest air in the whole world.
As the air whooshed back out, the stone rolled away and the cave was open again!
Light streamed in and out.
I inched forward a little bit. The man saw me. I wanted to run.
He stooped down and held out his hand and smiled at me.
When I saw his eyes, I didn’t want to run away anymore.
With my front paws, I stepped up onto his warm fingers and sniffed.
His touch made me feel warm inside.
He scooped me up, held me close to his heart, and took me outside.
He stroked my fur with gentle hands and said,
“Don’t be afraid, Little Bunny. I am with you.”
Hearing his voice. . . I knew I would never be afraid again.
The special day when the man who glowed came out of the dark is called Easter.
They call me the Easter Bunny because that was the amazing day He took all my fears away.
Thank you, Jesus, for Easter, and for everything.
So especially in this dark time of pandemic – in this time of lost jobs, lost classrooms, lost freedom of movement and interaction – and whatever personal forms of darkness we are experiencing –
We need to remember the lesson of the Easter Bunny who once was afraid of the dark, thunder, lightning, shadows, and crowds –
JESUS took all those fears away – and JESUS will take away our fears, too.
So that ALL our days can be AMZAING DAYS!
And so we say in Spanish: Felices Pascuas.
In Italian: Buona Pasqua.
In French: Joyeuses Paques.
And in Vietnamese: Chuc Mung.
HAPPY EASTER! Everyone – may God bless you today and take away all our fears. AMEN!
In a 1958 play by Archibald Macleish – which is a modern day re-telling of the story of the Biblical figure Job --- Job is broken by all the terrible things that have happened in his life.
Turning to his wife, Sarah, for some comfort and advice when he admits it is just “too dark to see” – Sarah turns, pulls Job’s head down between her hands, kisses him --- and says:
“If it is too dark to see ---- then you must blow on the coal of your heart, my darling.
For the candles in churches go out – and even the sun sets and the sky grows dark.
But blow on the coal of your heart – and we won’t lose the light – and we will see by and by.”
Throughout this Lenten season we have been talking about light and darkness. We have admitted that many of us have been in a dark tunnel because of the personal pains and hurts and disappointments we carry from our own past – and carry from the collective past of this faith community of St. Patrick.
It’s time for us all to put the past behind, to come out of the dark tunnel and into the bright light of Jesus Christ. . .
We are almost there – but this week still holds a lot of darkness, although we have glimmers of light.
As we heard at the beginning of this Mass – there is the light of the crowd shouting:
“Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.”
But --- then there is the darkness of the crowds in Pilate’s courtyard we heard in the Passion, who shout: “Give us Barabbas”– And then Pilate asks them: “and what shall I do with Jesus called the Christ”?” And they shout: “Crucify him!”
Near the end of today’s Passion Reading – we had the light of the faith of the centurion at the cross saying: “truly this was the son of God” ---- and those who knew Jesus the best in his life, the apostles, hiding in the darkness of fear-- somewhere far from the cross.
In Wednesday’s Gospel we will hear of the darkness of the hands of Judas as he reaches them out to receive 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus.
And on Holy Thursday we will see the light of the serving hands of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as he says: “what you have seen me do – you must do for one another.”
But in Wednesday’s Gospel hear of the darkness of the hands of Judas as he reaches them out to receive 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus.
As we read the Passion of John on Good Friday, we will hear of the light of fidelity of three Mary’s standing at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ beloved disciple – and the darkness of shame as Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.
We have the light of discipleship when Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus to bury --- and the darkness of NOT ONE of the apostles there to help.
At the end of the Passion on Good Friday – we have Jesus placed in the darkness of the tomb where he will stay until the cries of “Christ our Light” of the Easter Vigil announces that nothing is impossible with God: God can conquer sin and God can even conquer death itself.
And throughout this week --- where do we stand?
Completely --- and comfortably --in the dark?
Or in the dark blowing on the coals of our hearts with the hope of the light to come?
Or do we boldly stand in the light – cursing the darkness?
Perhaps there are two quotes that can keep us focused during this coming Week we call Holy:
First, to remember that it is said the darkest hour of night – is just before the dawn.
And second: when the world around you is cast into darkness --- choose to be the light!
READINGS: 1st: Ezekiel 37:12-14 Psalm: 130 2nd: Romans 8:8-11
Gospel: John 11:1-45
Way back on Ash Wednesday, February 26th – before any of us had heard of Coronavirus and social distancing and sheltering in place --- we set as a goal for our 40 day Lenten journey – personal transformation: we were all going to be like the mythical Phoenix – which bursts into flames – dies to its old self – and rises a new from the ashes. . .
I suggested we were all in a dark tunnel – of pain, or hurt, or confusion -- sometimes because of circumstances beyond our control – and need to move out of the tunnel into the wonderful light of Christ – which is waiting for us on the other side of the tunnel.
That transformation, that dying and rising process – had us looking at some difficult, but necessary things during Lent. . .
On the first Sunday of Lent, we considered that we come into the light of Christ when we choose to be victors rather than victims. We cannot control the things that happen to us – but we can control how we react to them –and how we can chose to move beyond them. And as Christians, we claim our victory through the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ!
On the second Sunday of Lent, we remembered the words of Andy Dufresne in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption:
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
And how we come out of the dark tunnel and into the wonderful light of Jesus Christ – when we place our hope in Christ: No one, or NO thing else: “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: listen to him!”
The third Sunday of Lent, we considered that sometimes we do hold on to things so tightly from our past, refusing to turn loose of them so much – that our hearts and our lives –cannot move forward.
We come out of the tunnel of darkness into the light of Christ when we come to understand that in harboring the anger, bitterness, and resentment of past hurts – we are giving the reigns of control over to someone else ---- besides ourselves.
It was on that 3rd Sunday of Lent that the seeds for the need of forgiveness were planted: for forgiving is not about ACCEPTING the words and deeds that hurt us – forgiving is about letting go and moving on – with our lives. And in doing so – we choose to set ourselves free. . .
Which brings us to the tomb today – where our hands and feet, our hearts and lives – are often bound –
wrapped in a cloak of resentment and grudges we may find so comfortable – we don’t want to turn loose of them. . . but turn loose of them we must--- if we want to be truly free in the light of Jesus Christ. And we unwrap ourselves and throw off that cloak when we FORGIVE.
But before we go there – let’s acknowledge the blame game which we talked about last week – that gets carried into this week’s Gospel -- When Martha says:
“Lord, IF ONLY you had been here – my brother would not have died.”
There is probably a little bit of blame in every death of a loved one ----
IF ONLY we went to the doctor earlier. . .
IF ONLY we would have tired a different treatment or a different medication.. .
IF ONLY we would have recognized the symptoms earlier. . .
Finding someONE or someTHING to blame – only gives power to the pain – and avoids finding a solution for moving forward ---
In an article in the New World Catholic, David Richhio writes:
“As adults, our work is to recognized our pain and to work with it for change. To hold onto it – is a choice against change and growth, and for such a choice – we are the ones responsible.
“The work of recovery can never truly proceed as long as anyone else is to blame, because we then become passive victims, unable to help ourselves. Only able (though wounded) adults can do this work for themselves on themselves.”
Which brings us back to forgiveness, which, as Christian author C.S. Lewis says: “everyone thinks it’s a lovely idea until they have someone to forgive.”
Because it takes courage to forgive. And the major reason why people do not forgive – is that they do not have any models of forgiveness in their lives.
Forgiveness can be slow process. Forgiveness is a gift from God --- and a gift to oneself.
Forgiveness is an act of the will – a decision to let go of the desire to get even with someone who has hurt us.
We forgive because WE need to be healed. And the person who refuses to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
Research indicates that forgiveness is the trait most strongly linked to happiness.
Forgiveness is NOT reconciliation – when we try to repair a broken relationship – although reconciliation can be sought after forgiveness occurs.
Forgiveness is simply our choice not to carry the pain – not to let the hurt control us – which means it doesn’t even have to be communicated to the one who hurt us.
Naturally, people don’t like to (and frankly , don’t want to) forgive – we want to hold on to bitterness because we think – if I forgive the people who have hurt me – then I’m condoning their actions. Somehow I am saying what they did is okay.
That is not true at all: God is the judge, and God will judge appropriately.
Bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and grudges harm the one who is holding on to them the most.
But when we forgive – we are essentially saying: “you cannot destroy, end me, or hinder me any longer – because God is healing my wound. And God is better than bitterness. . .
Although forgiving someone is perhaps the hardest work we can do – we must absolutely do it – because not forgiving makes us toxic . An then we really have little to offer our family, our faith community, and our neighbors – because in a way, bitterness has to spread – because no one it all for themselves. . .
Milly yearned to absolve all those who had troubled her in her life.
She forgave her father for naming her Milly instead of Jo Ann.
She forgave her mother for passing on to her genes that made her oversensitive to small hurts and slights.
She forgave her brother for reading her diary, and her sister for her pretty legs, and her cat from running away.
Milly forgave everyone who had ever forgotten her birthday and everyone who looked over her shoulder at parties for someone more attractive to talk to.
She forgave her boss for being hard on her, and her husband for making uncalled for remarks about stale breakfast cereal and burned toast.
All this dispensing of absolution emptied Milly out and made her light as air. She had a sensation of floating, of weightlessness, and it seemed to her that bells were chiming inside of her head. . .
And so we are at the tomb – today – where are hands and our feet, our hearts and our lives – are bound – wrapped in a cloak of resentment and grudges we may find so comfortable – we don’t want to turn loose of them.
And Jesus stands outside of our tombs – and calls each of us by name – to come forth.
Are we ready to be as light as air – to have the sensation of floating, bells ringing inside our heads – because we are ready to forgive??
Or, are we going to stay in the darkness of our self-made tombs.
Jesus makes the choice clear: COME FORTH!
1st Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13
Responsorial Psalm: 23
2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
Gospel: John 9:1-41
The Gospel is proof that the game has been going on for thousands of years. . . it’s the blame game. And the object of the game is quite simple: find someone to blame for bad or unfortunate events that have happened -- rather than attempt to seek a solution.
A variation of the blame game is the pass the buck game with a similar objective: evade responsibility by passing it on to someone else.
We see the blame game in the Gospel when the disciples ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”
And we see the pass the buck game: when the parents of the blind man – not wanting to get the scribes and Pharisees ticked off at them, say: “We don’t know how our son now sees – nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him – he is of age to speak for himself.”
Now it was though in Jesus day – that sickness or physical disabilities or other “bad things” that happen in life were the result of sin. . .
And while today we may not necessarily say that bad things are the result of sin – they are certainly the result of someone or something besides us. . .
A fisherman was heading home at dusk. The river he was on was narrow – and suddenly another boat was headed straight for him, coming faster and faster.
He gets upset and starts to yell: “Hey, watch out. Turn darn you!”
But the other boat crashed into him anyway. The fisherman was furious and started yelling, and cursing, louder and louder. Until ---- he realizes –
no one --- is piloting the other boat.
He was run into by an empty boat – that somehow got unmoored from the dock ---and now he feels even more upset than ever – because he has no one to blame!
Our lives are full of boats that are adrift – and many of them are empty. But our minds won’t let us accept this reality --- because they urge us to find the pilot of the boat: we want to find someone to BLAME! When things don’t go right, we want to find out who’s guilty!!
Underlying the blame game and the pass the buck game – is the expectation that we want life to be fair.
And the truth is, life is neither fair, nor unfair – life just is: as author Harold Kushner reminded us many years ago: bad things do simply happen to good people. . .
So how does one break the cycle of blaming and passing the buck???
I think the solution is found in the first reading when Samuel went off to find the future king of Israel among the sons of Jesse. . .
After seeing what Samuel thought was prime kingly material rejected by the Lord, Samuel is told:
“Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the outward appearance – but the Lord looks into the heart.”
A solution for getting not just through life – but enjoying a life that is prosperous and abundant with good things from the lord – is to start seeing things with the eyes of faith – with the eyes of God:
we have to learn, with the grace of God – to be empathetic, not judgmental: grateful rather than entitled; responsible rather than evasive.
We need to focus on understanding others: learn how to walk in their shoes – we need to get rid of the black and white approach that is someone if right – it means someone else is wrong.
I am not perfect – and neither are you: so why do we expect perfection from ourselves and others??
If someone caused us harm –was it on purpose, or just an accident?
Are we sending out signals for other people to “attack” us, even if we don’t notice? Self-pity is a character we can play:
we believe our suffering makes us special and deserving of more attention. Playing the victim role is easy: it makes us feel innocent --- because others are to blame for our pain: certainly we had no role whatsoever in bringing it about. . .
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Empathy starts at home – let’s all just start being more kind to ourselves! AND KIND TO OTHERS!
What we need to realize is that there is a magnificent future waiting for each one of us, but only if we are willing to leave prior events behind.
We can’t take responsibility for circumstances until we relieve those who have hurt us of their power over us.
We cannot fulfill our potential until we forgive our past.
We can’t be a victor tomorrow if we are still acting like a victim from events that happened yesterday – or last month – or five years ago.
We can’t move forward while we remain fixed on what’s behind us.
“Who sinned – this man or his parents?”
And Jesus answered: “neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through this blind man.”
Something terrible has happened to us – who is to blame??
I believe God still works in the way God has always worked --- most likely no one is to blame – this happened, whatever it may be --- so that God’s works might be made visible. . .
It’s time to stop blaming – and start aiming – at the future God has ready for us.
As St. Paul told the Ephesians, so he tells us:
“You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
We come into the light of Christ when we refuse to blame – which only gives power to the pain --- and avoids finding a solution for moving forward.
1st Reading: Exodus: 17:3-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel: John 4:5-42
Many years ago, in a simpler time before many bridges had been built: two Buddhist monks who were on their way back to their monastery found an exceedingly beautiful woman at the river bank.
Like them, she wished to cross the river, but the water was too high. So one of the monks lifted her on his back and carried her across the river.
His fellow monk was scandalized. For two full hours as the continued their trip home, he berated him on is negligence in keeping the holy rule – had he forgotten that he was a monk? How dare he touch a woman – and even worse – carry her on his back all the way across the river! What would people say? Had he not brought his holiness into question? And on and on he went.
The offending monk patiently listened to the never-ending lecture. Finally he broke in with, “brother, since the only thing on my mind was charity, I left that woman hours ago at the river. But apparently YOU are still carrying her with you!”
Have we ever held on to something someone else has said or done --- refusing to turn loose of the incident – carrying a grudge --- replaying it over and over again in our minds? Something that should have been left at the river – hours, months, or years – ago?
Someone once wisely said, “holding grudges does no harm to the person against whom you hold these feelings – but every day ---and every night of your life, they are eating away --- at you.”
One day, a child got his hand stuck in his mother’s favorite vase.
The boy’s father tried his best to get the little boy’s hand out – all in vain.
At the point of breaking the vase in order to free the boy’s hand –the father tried one more time. “Now open your hand up, place your fingers together as tightly as you can – and we will see if we can get you unstuck” said the boy’s father.
“I can’t do that, the boy said.” “Why not,” asked his father? “Because I will drop the penny I have clenched in my fist” said the boy. . .
Have we ever held on to something so tightly from our past, refusing to turn loose of it so much – that our hearts, and our lives – cannot move forward?
Again, someone much wiser than I said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. . . Anger, resentment and jealousy don’t change the hearts of others – they only change yours.”
I think our Scripture readings today take us down the path of either clinging to our past hurts and resentments,---- or turning loose of them and accepting the gift of peace that God is offering to each one of us.
First the Israelites – if we follow the story line set out for us in the Book of Exodus – a mere four chapters before the reading were heard today,--
we hear: “the lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt company by company” (12:50) and Moses told them, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, that place of slavery.” (13:3) and six hundred thousand men –
not counting women and children, left Egypt with a glad song of liberation in their hearts. . .
And now--- when faced with a little thirst -- they moan and groan, “why did YOU (Moses) ever MAKE US leave Egypt?”. As if things were so much better there?
And sadly we can find that this is already the second time they have longed for the past – the first time when they were up against a rock and a hard place at the Red Sea – when God miraculously created a way out of their troubles when they saw no way out – they also panicked – and wanted to turn back. . .
What’s wrong with these people??? What’s wrong with us??
Do we really want to be rid of our resentments, our anger, our fear? Because many of us want to cling to our fears, doubts, self-loathing, or hatred-- because there is a certain distorted security in familiar pain. . . It seems safer to embrace what we know than to let go of it --- for fear of the unknown. .
Contrast this – with the Samaritan woman in the Gospel --- who I think was just tired of who she was, and the past she thought would haunt her forever . . . oh, in their back and forth conversation – Jesus showed he knew her quite well – yes she was a Samaritan, yes she was a woman –
a lonely one at that for she had looked for love in all the wrong places -- As Jesus said: “you are right in saying ‘I do not have a husband’ – for you have had five husbands – and the one you have now is not your husband.”
But she was ready for a change – that’s why she says, “Sir, give me this life-giving water you are offering – so that I may not be thirsty again.”
And Jesus accepted her. Jesus blessed her. Jesus changed her. And Jesus gave her the courage she needed to go off and call others to him, “and many Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified.”
--All this --- because she was willing to let go of her fears, doubts, self-loathing, hatred and pain – and embrace the unknown of a new life FREE of all of those things. . .
We come out of the tunnel of darkness – where all the pain, hurts, disappointments, loses, and despairs --- would like to keep us lurking --- into the wonderful light of Jesus Christ when we refuse to give into resentment – which only keeps repeating the aching of our wounds.
We come out of the tunnel of darkness into the wonderful light of Jesus Christ when we come to understand that in harboring the anger, the bitterness and resentment towards those who have hurt us – we are giving the reigns of control over to them.
Forgiving is not about accepting their words and deeds. Forgiving is about letting go and moving on--with our lives. And in doing so, we choose to set ourselves free.
When we make that choice, when we ask the Lord, “give us this water”
We will “have peace with God through Jesus Christ through whom we have access by faith to the grace in which we stand, and we will boast in hope of the glory of God.” [2nd reading from Romans]
The first line of St. Matthew’s Gospel today tells us that Jesus was LED by the spirit into the desert: which means this is something Jesus may not have chosen to do on his own –
--a place he may not have wanted to go –
--which led to a confrontation he may not have desired to have.
Jesus was LED by the spirit into the desert. . .
And in Jesus’ solitary confinement in the desert – used in prisons to break the spirit, weaken the heart, and confuse the mind in order to make a person more cooperative and docile --- Jesus confronted the basic temptations of humanity:
--the physical temptation to do what feels right = command these stones to become loaves of bread: take care of your own needs, relieve your own hunger, satisfy your longings giving no thought to anyone else.
Jesus confronted --the emotional temptation to question God’s love = if you are the son of God, throw yourself off the temple – God will catch you, if God really loves you. . . don’t worry about taking care of yourself, rely on others to take care of you – they will – if they really love you.
And Jesus confronted --the temptation to control --- to have power over others = all these kingdoms I will give you if you bow down and worship me. . .
be powerful, take control, be the one in charge – don’t worry if you have to step over a few people on your way to the top. . .
In the face of such temptations and circumstances – Jesus chose to be a victor – rather than a victim – by turning to God and allowing God to be the determining force at work in his life:
-one does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God.
-no one should put the Lord, our God, to the test.
-get away satan – the lord our God shall one worship-- and God, alone, should one serve.
And then a miracle – an unexpected happening occurred right there in the desert: angels came and ministered to Jesus.
And after this solitary confinement in the desert – rather than emerging with a broken spirit, a weakened heart, and a confused mind --- Jesus emerged with the strength of what was said of him at his Baptism: “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” – and Jesus “began to preach and say: repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus emerged from the desert as a victor – rather than a victim.
Many of us –dare I say all of us – in the course of our lives have ended up in places and circumstances we may not have chosen on our own – places and circumstances and situations and occurrences where we may not have wanted to go – which led to confrontations we may not have desired.
In other words, we have all been where Jesus has been – we have all be led into the deserts of loneliness, despair, anger, resentment, fear, depression, desolation, withdraw, abandonment, hatred and perhaps even violence – led there by our own choices – or more tragically or unfortunately – by the choices and actions of others.
And in the darkness and pain of our deserts – our spirits can be broken – our hearts can be weakened – and our minds can be confused.
But then we do have a choice – to stay in the darkness of being a victim --- or to choose to come out of the tunnel into the light of Christ, choosing to be a victor. . .
And the turning point of that choice is whether we let the values of the world be the ultimate determining factor of our lives --- or whether or not we chose GOD to be that ultimate driving force. . .
Whether we buy into an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth -- or offer no resistance to one who is evil.
Whether we choose to love our neighbor and hate our enemy – or love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Whether we choose to strive for perfection, or just settle for being pretty good – in the big things, and not worry about the little things.
It’s true -- we cannot control what other people say and do – and where their poor choices may led us --- but we can chose to control what we say and do – and how we react to what they say and do.
As Dr. Martin Luther King once said: “darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that. And hatred cannot drive our hatred; only love can do that.”
We come out of the darkness of the tunnel, and into the light of Christ -- when we choose to be victors, rather than victims.
And then from time to time miracles – unexpected happenings do occur in our lives: God does send angels of compassion and mercy to minister to us.