Everyday Hope

  
After so many hours of terrible waiting and pain in the darkness and rubble, the little girl was pulled alive from the wreck of her Italian home. Saving her gave the rescue workers hope that others still needed them, and so they went on digging and listening, searching for other survivors. In the convent, the sisters were injured and bleeding. Only two of them had survived, scared and trapped and unsure if anyone was around to hear their cries for help. They were afraid. Using her cellphone, one of the sisters sent goodbye messages to her family, believing she was about to die. But she didn’t die. A worker from their convent rescued them. 

In Louisiana, neighbors with boats went around saving neighbors without boats in the recent floods. They pulled them through windows and off of roofs and lifted them out of the dark water. They took their dogs and cats along, too. They wrapped them in blankets and gave them coffee and sandwiches. It wasn’t their job to rescue people, but they did it anyway. Because that’s what neighbors do for one another.  

The firefighters have been battling in the hills and canyons for months now. The heat and drought and winds make it hard to get ahead of the flames. So many fires in so many places. This part of California, with all its homes and ranches and horse farms is a tinder keg of desert scrub. In the 120 degree heat, the firefighters cut brush, build fire breaks and help people and animals evacuate. They’re nearly always in danger themselves and they’ll work until the last fire is out and the ashes are cold.  

Every day across the world people are reaching out to help one another. Some in big ways—like in an earthquake or a flood or a wildfire. But many, many more are in a million other small ways that never make the headlines. And it’s in those million small connections that love and mercy live. That’s where and how the Kingdom of God is built. J.R.R. Tolkien and I agree on that. He writes that where some folks believe “only great power can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keeps the darkness at bay.” Oh, yes, Mr. Tolkien, once again, you’ve got things right. 

Because for every headline rescue, there are a million of those “small acts” of kindness and love. And they save lives, and spirits, too. They give hope and joy to countless people every day, all over the world. And I believe it is in these person-to-person non-headline kindnesses that the mercy of God is most fully revealed in our world. And every day, each one of us is called to participate. Called by the King of Kings, no less. This is how we share in the Hope of Christ.  

I know the world looks like a mess. On the face of things, it seems broken beyond repair. So it can be easy to hide behind all sorts of masks and excuses and we can choose to stay on the sidelines. But not if we follow Christ. Being a Christian means jumping in with both feet and engaging the chaos and darkness of the world. And our armor is the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11). It’s not by taking a pass, but by meeting life head-on, in the trenches, and reflecting the light of Christ to others. You might not see your name in the headlines, but you’ll be building the Kingdom of Heaven—person to person, moment to moment, heart to heart. Choose hope!

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

             —St. Augustine  

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A Simple Kind of Love

  
We can take something as simple as “love your neighbor” and make it incredibly complicated. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ know that love is the heart of His message and He went about showing us how to live that love during His ministry here. We see Him healing sick people, bringing dead people back to life, comforting folks who are grieving and befriending folks most people avoided, like tax collectors and lepers and adulterers. And He ate and drank a lot, with anyone He could find. Loving other like Jesus loves seems pretty simple when we read the Gospels, but when we look around today, sometimes it feels like Christianity is more of a business than a love affair.  

And that’s understandable since any time a group of people come together for a common purpose, an organization will grow up to provide oversight. Girl Scouts have troops, baseball players have teams, churches have pastors and bishops. But I’m not talking about churches or denominations. This is about how we Christians, as individuals, have made our faith overly-complex. I’m pretty sure none of the twelve Apostles had advanced degrees in theology. And yet they took what Jesus had taught them and the grace He shared with them—-and changed the world.  

Love your neighbor. That’s what Jesus did. His neighbors were the people He came across in His daily life. They were His family, the folks at the synagogue, the fishermen and farmers and shepherds that He encountered each day. They were the sick people who came to Him to be cured and the Pharisees who came to Him to condemn Him. He met them in the moment, where they were, with an openness of heart. He listened to what they had to say. When they were in the wrong, He corrected them. Remember, “go and sin no more”(John 8:11). How about “you serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of hell?”(Matthew 22:33). He cut through all pretense and social convention to meet their needs.  

How do we love like He loves? This is one of the great questions we should be asking ourselves every day. It never gets old to ask it. And it never feels as if we know the full answer. Maybe the answer is one of the things St. Paul was writing about when he said, “For now, we see through a glass darkly…”(I Corinthians 13:12). While that may be true, right now, we’re here on earth, trying to love, trying to get it right. So I have a challenge for all of us this week. This week, we’re going to love like Jesus.  

Let’s talk less and listen more. When we’re tempted to judge, let’s remember our own sins and lay that rock back down. When we see a problem that we can solve, let’s solve it. Pick up the trash, hold open the door, meet up for lunch, visit the nursing home, and make that overdue phone call. Connect with the friends and family and neighbors that we’ve been neglecting. Mend the fence. Right the wrong. Forgive the slight. Help someone else when it isn’t convenient or easy. And then keep that helping to yourself. Be a pushover this week and see how it makes you feel. As St. Ignatius prays, “Lord, teach me to give and not to count the cost.” Just for this week, let’s try not counting the cost of our love—either in time or in energy or effort. Just for this week, let God keep score of how well we’re doing.  

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, He will NOT ask, “How many good things have you done in your life?” Rather, he will ask, “How much LOVE did you put into what you did?”

       —-Mother Teresa of Calcutta 

Passover and the Holy Mass

 

A loaf of bread and a cup of wine shared among friends. What made this meal different from all other meals was that God Himself had instructed His people to eat it. Along with the bread and wine, a lamb was roasted and eaten, with its’ blood marking the doors and windows of each home. This meal, eaten by the Jews exiled in Egypt, was the Passover meal (Exodus 12:1-28). The blood of the slain lamb saved the Jews from the death which God sent to the unbelievers. The Passover lamb and the meal the Jewish families shared prefigures the Last Supper shared by Christ and His chosen. In His Sacrifice on the Cross, He becomes the Paschal Lamb, saving His children from the death of sin. (Matthew 26:17-30). The Church and the Sacraments emerge from Jewish history and Scripture. Understanding the Passover Lamb helps us to fully appreciate the Holy Mass of His Church. 

Catholics read the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and take Jesus’ words literally: “This is My Body”(Matthew 26:14-15). When He tells us to “do this in memory of Me”(Luke 22:7), we do it. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb meant life for the Jews, the Body and Blood of Christ means life for His Church. Jesus, as the Paschal Lamb, fulfills all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament:”…I come not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”(Matthew: 5:17). Our worship of Christ is expressed in the celebration and sacrifice of the Holy Mass. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is “the source and summit of the Christian life”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1324). The Mass is the public prayer of the Church in which we offer God praise and thanksgiving, ask forgiveness for our sins, intercede for the needs of others and share in His Body and Blood, as He has instructed us. Just as the ancient Jews ate the meal God prescribed for them, Catholics share in the Eucharist as Jesus has instructed us. The celebration of the Eucharist is the prayer of, by, and for the Church.

The Catholic Mass is not only based on the last meal shared by Jesus with his disciples, but also reflects a long history of special meals described in Scripture and celebrated by both the ancient Jews and the early Christians. From that original Passover meal and all its’ annual re-presentations, to Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39), the meal shared at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and His breakfast at the sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14). In the early Church, worship included the Eucharist as well as readings from Sacred Scripture (I Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-34). In the year 150 A.D., a Christian convert named St. Justin Martyr describes how the Church celebrated the Eucharist when he wrote a famous letter explaining his faith. He describes a Sunday assembly where Scriptures are read and the priest gives a homily or sermon explaining them to the faithful. Shared prayer follows and then an offering of bread and wine is consecrated by the priest. The Body and Blood of Christ is then shared by the faithful, with some reserved to take to those not present. A collection is taken to support the Church and to help the needy. Some things never change! If St. Justin were to come to a Catholic Mass today, he would feel very much at home. With few changes, the order of our worship remains essentially the same. If you’ve ever wondered how the early Church worshiped together, come to Mass sometime and see what you’ve been missing. 

“He that eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day”(The Gospel of St. John, 6:55). 

The Pleasure of God

  
One day last week I had one of those unpleasant 24-hour bugs. All I wanted to do was lay very still and sip on 7-Up. I turned on the TV and the movie “Chariots of Fire” was just starting. I hadn’t seen it in many years and honestly didn’t remember much of the plot. I kind of hoped it would put me to sleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up I’d feel better. But I didn’t sleep. I was drawn into the movie and the characters, especially the story of the Scottish minister and runner, Eric Liddell. He’s most known for his refusal to compete on Sundays, throwing his, and his country’s 1924 Olympic dreams into doubt. I won’t spoil the story for you if you’ve never seen the movie. It’s a great film and during these Olympic weeks would make for wonderful family viewing.  

There’s a moment when Eric Liddell is talking with his sister about why he runs. She feels that her brother lets his running distract him from his more important missionary work. He tells her, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” How incredible to imagine that we can feel God’s joy! Maybe you’ve experienced a moment like that yourself. I think it’s pretty easy to think of God’s pleasure when we hear a great piece of music like the “Ode To Joy” or the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Or to imagine God smiling as He gazes on a beautiful sculpture or a painting masterpiece. The gifts of of art and music and even world-class running seem to easily showcase the exuberance of God’s joy when He created these gifts in us. We stand, we cheer, we shed a tear—because that same joy overflows within us during those moments and we recognize it. In a way, those transcendent moments let us glimpse the pleasure of God that Mr. Liddell describes.  

But, as I lay there on the couch last week, trying not to throw up, I seemed light years away from any kind of transcendent moment of creative joy. I wonder how many of us might have a hard time imagining how we can please God in our own “ordinary” lives. And yet, that’s exactly what we’re each called to do. When we please God, we are most fully ourselves—most fully the person He created us to be. And vice versa. When we’re the best version of ourselves, it pleases the Lord. Even if you’re not an artist or a poet or an Olympic runner. Even when I’m sick on the couch, I can please God.  

Many saints have written about how to do this. My favorite, perhaps because she speaks in ordinary, everyday language, is St. Therese of Lisieux. She lived in the latter part of the 1800’s in France and died of tuberculosis when she was just 24. She was convinced that all of us can be saints by living every moment of our lives as a little child in the lap of God the Father. She teaches us that every small act of love and sacrifice that we offer to God can be immeasurably valuable. She said, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” Hey, even I can do that. If something so small and ordinary can be offered to God as a sacrifice for others, then everything we do in our lives can be an act of love. It’s how we can “pray without ceasing” as St. Paul tells us (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). And mostly, it’s a way of holiness that even a sinner like me can follow. St. Therese’s “Little Way” offers us sainthood in whatever our role in life. Mothers, fathers, teachers, clerks, bus drivers—whenever we act out of love and sacrifice, we can feel God’s pleasure. That’s a good thing to remember as we begin each day. In a prayer written by St. Therese, she says in part: 

I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.