Monday, August 8, 2011

Go and do likewise.

Monday, August 8, 2011
Memorial of St. Dominic

Over the weekend a close friend of mine sent me an email asking me for feedback on a reflection she had written. She is a candidate with the Sisters of St. Joseph, and as part of her candidacy, she is required to undergo a two-day psych evaluation preceeded by a 37-pg questionnaire requiring written responses.  The reflection she sent me was in the response to the following prompt: “to write a summary of what is important in living as a Christian, imagining that she was explaining the teaching and example of Jesus to an intelligent and well-disposed adult who is interested in Christianity but not familiar with the Gospels.”

A summary of the Gospel message, of what it means to live as a Christian.  That's no small task.  I wonder what you or I would write in response to this question.

The response of my friend was thoughtful, integrated, and compelling.  She began with the bare facts –  “believing that Jesus Christ, a first-century Jew, was God become man who died at the hands of local authorities for his teachings and rose from the dead three days after his death.”   From this groundwork she moved to what she believes are the essentials of the Gospel message – that “life in all its intricacies can be boiled down to two teachings – love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  The two go hand in hand and from them stems the fruit and calls of a Christian life: hope, humility, joy, justice, unity, and surrender.”  She wrote that the life of a Christian begins with loving God and allowing God to love us.  The consequence of this intimate relationship is that we are moved to love and care for others, to live a life of joyful hope and humble service to others modeled after Christ’s example of radical and boundless love.  This love of God and neighbor should move the Christian to forgiveness, right relationship, charity and justice.  “The Christian models Christ”, she writes, “by working for the least of those in the world, welcoming the outsider, and caring for those forgotten by society.”

Though he lived long before Christ, Moses’ words in today’s first reading could be a response to the very same question to which my friend responded.  “What does the Lord, your God, ask of you?”, Moses says to his people.  “Follow his ways.  Love and serve the Lord with all your heart and all your soul.  Keep the commandments.  The Lord has chosen you, out of love, to be his own.  Our God is a God of justice, who feeds the hungry, befriends the alien and the sinner, gives food to the hungry, sustains all things, raises up life.”  And Moses does not forget the profound and necessary implications of this reality – “so you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves…”.  Moses first highlights the love of God and our own need to respond in love, reminding us that each of us is, in a sense, alien in this world--we are all pilgrims on the road to back to God, and we are, in fact, our brother and sister’s keeper.

What does it mean to be a Christian?  What is at the heart of the life and teachings of the first-century Jew who we believe is God incarnate?  Perhaps today we could ask ourselves these questions, and keep in mind the responses of Moses and my friend—that first and foremost the life of a Christian is a life overcome and defined by the intimate, life-giving love of God in Christ.  But the power and beauty of the Gospel message of this love is that it demands something great of us.  It demands that we go and do likewise.

Yet another 'homily' for a Fairfield U communion service.  Thanks Colleen for the alley-oop on this one.

Monday, August 1, 2011

God our help

Numbers 11:4b-15 - A frustrated Moses journeying out of Egypt with hungry and ungrateful Israelites 
Psalm 81: 12-17 - Sing with joy to God our help
Matthew 14:22-36 - Jesus walks on water and commands Peter to fearlessly do the same

We know this Moses well.  Here he is in the first reading, journeying with the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land and caring for them as their divinely chosen leader, yet burdened by the suffering, and the stubbornness, of the Israelites.  His people, so many of them, are in their hunger begging to be fed while still recalling that even in their enslavement in Egypt, they at least ate their fill.  Pained by their endless cries of hunger and despair, Moses cries out to God in exasperation: Why me? Why should I be responsible for them? What did I do to deserve this, and how will I possibly satisfy their hunger? I cannot do this on my own…”

I imagine that many of us gathered here today often feel these same sentiments in the day-to-day of our lives.  How often do we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities, and weighed down by the immensity of the need around us?  How often do we give, and give, and give of ourselves, and feel so little appreciated in return?  Whether it is caring for elderly parents or grandparents, raising children, laboring to teach our students, or feeling compelled to respond to the needs of St. Charles Food Pantry or the refugees in Somalia, no doubt we have moments when the human struggle we witness causes us to ask “Why?  Why should I be responsible for this?  How will I possibly meet their endless needs? I cannot do this on my own…”

We are commanded to love one another, yet we often struggle to find the energy.  We are called to feed the hungry, but where to find the food?  We are asked to walk on water, but the strength of the wind is terrifying.

It is in these moments of fear and frustration, when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders and in our hearts, that we find ourselves in the company of Moses and Peter.  Struggling with the seeming impossibility of the Lord's command, they simply cry out, “Lord, save me!”   Their courageous act of faith invites us to trust that we too will be met with saving grace in Jesus’ outstretched hand the moment we reach for God our help.

Written for a lay-led communion service at Fairfield University, 8/1/2011