Colliding with Mystery
At the beginning of each week, I often ask myself what God would want me to tell you the coming weekend. I take a look at the scripture readings for Sunday, and I try to recall everything I know, everything I’ve read in commentaries, everything I learned in those graduate school scripture courses 20 years ago (it’s not like anything ever comes up that’s really new – Okay, that story about Jesus being married, that’s not new either; and the scripture scholar who found the parchment fragment says her findings are inconclusive), … so I try to recall what I know about those scripture readings, and I ask the Holy Spirit to unclog my mind and my heart so that I might hear God tell me something, anything. Sometimes, it comes together early in the week, more often it doesn’t until late Friday night or Saturday morning. So I have learned to sit still and listen patiently. I used to pace the floor nervously. I realized soon enough that the waiting doesn’t end sooner. So I watch the news, and I pay attention to what people tell me. I think about what I read, what I watch on TV. I examine the events in my own life – my interaction with others, the things I say, the thoughts that run through my head, my failings, my convictions, my doubts. I pause and wonder when things don’t make sense. When something profound hits me, I step back and let it sink in. And I take all these things with me back to my laptop, all the while asking the Holy Spirit to help me put words together so you all don’t fall asleep. Artists often say they can’t be rushed. I know God can’t be rushed either. But every so often I have to remind him that I have to make sense of what I hear, before I tell you about it. And I need the time to do that, sometimes a lot of time. All I ask is that God keep my limitations in mind. What options do you have when your pencil breaks? You either sharpen it or get a new pencil. I know I am just a pencil in God’s hand. He is the one who has something to tell you.
Sometimes people will ask me if it’s okay to go to another church that isn’t Catholic. Usually it’s because another family member goes there. I tell them it’s fine, but that they still should come to mass. It’s about the faith we profess, our unique sense of community, and the Eucharist we share. I know I wouldn’t feel the same sense of community in someone else’s church, participating in a service that isn’t familiar to me. Sometimes they nod and take my advice. No one usually tells me if they disagree. And even when they do, it’s not like I can make them do otherwise. If they tell me they just aren’t being fed here, I encourage them lovingly to go find the food they need to sustain God’s life within them. I would never want anyone to go hungry. But how can anyone here go hungry? I know it’s not because our table is empty.
As I looked back upon this past week, and listened to what God was trying to tell me, a few things came into focus. Last Sunday I walked with a group of parishioners at the CROP walk. As we passed Kline’s Dairy Bar across from the high school, someone jokingly asked me to buy them ice cream. (You know who you are.) My immediate reaction was, “You’re supposed to be walking for the hungry. How can you seriously justify stopping for ice cream?” We had a good laugh. But it made me think how other people’s real problems are often not that real to us. Monday, I noticed the FOR SALE sign on my neighbor’s lawn. I had met the little old lady some years back. She came to my door to borrow matches during a power failure. We talked then, but not since. Did she move away? Did she pass away? Tuesday, Jesus proclaimed in the gospel, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” That afternoon I went to visit with a parishioner who felt increasingly disillusioned and discouraged by physical weakness. I tried to tell him to go gentle on himself. God was not abandoning him. And loneliness is just a reminder that only God can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Wednesday, I texted a friend who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I told her I would come to dinner next week. Thursday was the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, patron of our diocese. I had lunch with the pastors of our LARCUM partner churches. We talked about the goings-on in the community. Then that afternoon, I had an interesting conversation about death with an 8 year old child. Friday was the memorial of the first Filipino saint, Lawrence Ruiz and his companions, martyred in Nagasaki, Japan in 1637. Then in the readings at mass, we heard from the book of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season.” Then in the gospel, “The Son of Man must suffer, be killed, and rise on the third day.” And later that morning, I met with a gentleman about his spiritual journey these last three years. Saturday, I talked to Msgr. Kerry from Sydney, Australia, on Facetime (a video phone call) before breakfast. But it is good to reconnect.
That’s my week in review. And as I stopped to put some of the puzzle pieces together, it dawned on me that I had collided with mystery and beauty and wonder and God many times. A few themes kept recurring. No one is insignificant. God is at work in the world. The time we have in this life is short. Don’t waste it on fear, and worry, and resentment, and jealousy. We do not travel this life alone. God is beside us, and we have each other. Share what you have with those who don’t have. Lift those who are burdened. Take the time to tell those you love that they are important to you. Seek out the lost, the lonely, the angry, the discouraged. And keep coming back to God because the road can be difficult sometimes. When things make no sense, put your trust in God.
Jesus must have been disappointed by his apostles’ narrow vision. When it comes to accomplishing the mission his Father sent him to do, it matters little who gets the credit, as long as the good news is proclaimed, and the broken are made whole. Be grateful for the cup of water even from someone beneath you. Do not be a stumbling block on their path. And remember that God does not need our approval or permission to do what God has to do.
On 11 October, we begin the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict, on the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. I invite us to delve deeper into what we believe. God is speaking to us in sacred scripture, and in our experience of daily life. Take the time to pause and listen to the Holy Spirit speak. I invite you to pick up a card as you leave church today, and bring it back next week. What is God saying to you in the scriptures; where are you encountering Mystery?
And next week, pick up another card. We can stop listening whenever we feel like it. But I’m sure God will not run out of things to tell us. And I hope you will be willing to share with the parish what God tells you. Wouldn’t it be awesome if God was speaking the same message to all of us, and we all heard it? “Would that all God’s people were prophets! Would that God might bestow his spirit on all his people!”