Ruth’s Choice

Today’s first reading is taken from the Book of Ruth, a book I love and that we hear from too infrequently during Mass.

In today’s passage, we meet Naomi after the death of her husband Elimelech and her two sons, both of whom had married Moabite woman.  Naomi makes the decision to return to Bethlehem, her homeland.  Her daughter-in-law Orpah bids her a tearful good-bye.  Orpah’s choice to remain in her homeland is a sensible, as well as honorable and safe decision.

Ruth however, makes a much bolder choice. Despite Naomi’s encouragement that Ruth do as her sister-in-law has done, Ruth chooses to go with Naomi to a land where she will be an eternal outsider and where the national prejudice against Moabites, let alone single Moabite women goes deep.  (And remember, this is early Israel, where interracial marriages are frowned upon and where it is not easy to be a single woman in a culture where a woman’s social security depends on being linked to a man.)

Nonetheless, Ruth says to Naomi, in words familiar to us, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” 

Joan Chittister, in her book The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life, describes Ruth as making the choice filled with faith “that the God of yesterday is also the God of today, that the God who took one thing away has something else in store for her. Ruth determines to follow a God who worked through Miriam, Rachel, Sarah and Leah, as well as through Moses, Jacob and Abraham to save a world and lead a people.”

Ruth seizes the moment to become someone new, to start again in a place other than the place of her beginnings. She stretches herself to the limits to find the God who waits for her in what she has not yet become. Chittister writes:

Life is not a mystery for those who choose well-worn paths. But life is a reeling, spinning whirligig for those who do not, for those who seek God beyond the boundaries of the past. All the absolutes come into question. All the certainties fade. A ll the relationships on which they once had based their hopes shudder and strain under the weight of this new woman’s newness of thought and behavior.

Suddenly – it seems to have been, but probably only slowly, one idea at a time – Ruth finds herself at odds with her culture, her country, her religion and her role in life. One by one, she chooses against each of them. A Moabite, she makes the decision to go to the Jewish city of Bethlehem where race and religion will marginalize her forever. A follower of the tribal god Chemosh, she professes faith in the one God, Yahweh. A marriageable young woman, she opts for independence with another woman rather than set about finding a man to care for her. Ruth has discovered what it is to be the self that God made and nourishes and accompanies on the way.

Do we have the faith and courage of Ruth.

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3 thoughts on “Ruth’s Choice

  1. Susan so eloquently shares example after example of how, from a Christian perspective, each one of us is called to witness and share Christ’s message of love, charity, and forgiveness – and our call to be capable of showing mercy to others . . . A calling encouraged to be manifested at the perimeter, or outside, of our comfort zones; whether they be person or place – a calling to be as courageous and faithful as Ruth as she responded to her calling, responded to the Holy Spirit.

    In today’s modern ‘connected’ world are we not often entangled, considered an outsider, through opinions professed to reinforce a certain belief – much as Ruth, a Moabite woman, would have been upon her arrival in Bethlehem?

    Susan’s post yesterday, ‘Which (and Who) Strengthens Me’ offers a wonderful example of how one may possibly answer questioners who professes it is not true that we cannot do anything without or that we are totally dependent on God. As definitive as that statement or Scripture passages claim, the answer will never to as declarative.

    Many see me as too religiously righteous for not taking credit for my design, writing or speaking accomplishments. If lives lived without the knowledge of a Christian God can be productive, if behavior considered sinful occurs without God’s presence or influence, why then is ownership of all accomplishments declared by some intrinsically God’s?

    Often when attempting to share personal moments we consider a ‘Blessing’ from God, others often construe that they must not be as blessed (they are not as worthy, not as favored by God) if they have not experienced similar moments.

    How much more receptive, and what an engaging conversation often ensues, if one’s response subtly incorporates, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” or, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” The humility contained within those two phrases can be a universal lesson. So many persons of no organized faith, as well as many Protestants, see themselves as “an eternal outsider” according to the Catholic Church.

    Humility’s mantle has weight all its own. . . Until three years ago, I had never attended a Sunday service in a church other than Roman Catholic. Invitations a number of times when Professor Mark Osler gave the homily has introduced me to the Episcopalian Mass – which I thankfully attended after first attending early morning Mass at my parish.

    It was not until the 2012 Second Sunday of Advent weekend, having been invited north by a very special young woman (I first met Nikki at my parent’s gravesites earlier that summer and an unexpected act of kindness forever touched my heart) to be introduced to her and her best friend’s families and to take in both a youth and high school hockey game, that I attended a Protestant Service without first attending Mass.

    Invitations to Saturday afternoon and evening hockey games also afforded invitations for the Holy Spirit to attend – though the game of hockey has changed over time, the ‘spiritual’ essence of tradition remains and certain motions, actions and plays still pay homage to the ‘hockey gods’ – linking individuals and talents, to team, to life and to Spirit. New acquaintances made and conversations shared led to other invitations. “Would you please have drinks with us after the late game, I (we) so want to continue our conversation?”

    As ‘strangers’ to the younger crowd at ‘Hank’s Bar’ we drew quite a crowd of our own, the Holy Spirit included, as light-hearted conversation turned to remorse, addictions and more. Last call came and went, we closed the bar and my biological clock went dormant – I awoke after early morning Mass had already begun. . .

    Recalling Nikki is a Sunday School teacher at Faith Lutheran, and that Sunday Service was at 10:30 following, found me participating in my first Lutheran Sunday School and attending my first Lutheran Worship Service. The children celebrating the Nativity with a play, Jesus’ birth with a party and cake afterwards, and the Eucharistic Service touched my heart. During my long drive home that evening, through the blizzard that bought 19” of snow to the northern Twin Cities’ suburbs and forced hundreds of cars off the roads, prayers for a safe journey were needed as tears cascading down my face often blurred my vision of the highway. . .

    During my seventh and eighth grade summers I participated at Mass each morning of the week, and on numerous occasions I offered a prayer while riding my bike past Faith Lutheran. “Thank you so much Lord for having me born into a Catholic family and allowing me to receive communion every Sunday and every day during the summer. Please make it possible some day for my Lutheran friends to be able to receive communion more than once a week.” That Sunday morning I realized the Lord had answered my childhood prayers. . .

    Aware of my life long sheltered Sunday Service experiences, words still cannot describe how thankful I am that God’s children in that Lutheran parish receive communion each Sunday.

    Previously on this blog, I have shared portions of my Holy Spirit inspired ‘Women of Jerusalem Journey’ the following Easter sunrise morning back to Faith Lutheran (2013). In that outstate community (still considered home) to be held in as high esteem, as much if not more, for the inspirational eulogies I had been asked to deliver at Queen of Peace as for my creative designs was truly an Easter morning celebration. My driving 227 miles to put a towel around the waist of a favorite dress and help serve Sunday Brunch, participate in their Eucharistic Sacrifice and help clean up their kitchen afterwards brought tears to so many eyes.

    Why would celebrated ‘Catholic Christine’ choose to spend her Easter with us? It can be embarrassing when conversations often conclude with, “Spending time with you does more for my faith than the Bible study session I just completed.” I am sure in faith Ruth brought more to her new community than ‘Catholic Christine’ has ever brought to hers – although that Easter Eucharistic celebration brought the community much closer together. Will Catholicism ever embrace the barriers we brought down before, during and after a memorable Easter Sunday ‘Mass’? . . .

    Will most Christian faiths continue to consider themselves ‘eternal outsiders’ with regards to major differences that separates the faiths? Take for instance the differences between Eucharistic Transubstantiation and Eucharistic Sacramental Union.

    Exodus chapter twelve records the last of the ten plagues, which was the death of all the firstborn in Egypt. In the case of the first born of Israel, justice was satisfied with every claim of righteousness being fully met by the death of the substitute Passover Lamb. The blood of the Paschal lamb was a type of the Lamb of God–Christ our Passover.

    The word “Passover” (pasach) means “to pass over; to spread the wings over, to spare; preserve; protecting.” It refers to a specific time and place in the history of Israel when God’s judgment passed over and the Lord stood guard protecting those who trusted in Him. The Jewish Passover is a beautiful example of the salvation God has provided. It was a profession of faith in Yahweh to save His people from the avenging angel of death.

    In Christ’s day, as in ours, two days were required to celebrate the Passover. Jesus, with His disciples, observed the Passover the first night, and was Himself the Passover Lamb the second night. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The Passover Lamb was a substitutionary sacrifice. In each Jewish house in Egypt the paschal lamb was to die in the place of the firstborn. In the same way, Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.

    Is not the original Passover lamb God’s Passover Lamb, and at the consecration is it not Jesus who presides over the Sacrifice? At Mass, during the consecration, are we not in Christ’s presence as His invited guests sharing exactly as He shared, from a Christian perspective, the last Passover meal with His disciples. Each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we should focus on Christ’s presence with us and the ultimate sacrifice he offers – not struggling to define, while continually separating each from the other, how the bread and wine offered is the flesh and blood of He who is in our midst – of He, who in flesh and blood, served us and He who continues to serve us with each celebration of the Eucharist.

    No longer do the parishioners at Faith Lutheran celebrate a ‘Worship Service’ each Sunday, the center of their Sunday celebration is a sacrifice, the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, a mass. In His own words. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” They are, today they do, and the transformation of their liturgy should be celebrated. Knowing their hearts, would Jesus describe their Eucharistic Celebration and the Eucharistic Celebration of other faiths as fraudulent?

    If Ruth, a Moabite woman, had the courage to live in faith among a people not her own, are we not called in ‘faith’ to share Christ’s message of love, charity, and forgiveness celebrating together the Sacred Meal. The ‘Same Meal’ initiated by Jesus before His teachings were culled, categorized, fixed and established into beliefs bearing differing names ? . . .

    (Excerpts from abideinchrist.com)

  2. A correction if I may. . . At the time of my seventh grade summer, the Lutheran church offered communion once a ‘month’ not the once a week as mistakenly written. I apologize for the confusion. . .

  3. From John’s Gospel this morning. . .

    “As a result of this,
    many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
    and no longer accompanied him.
    Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
    Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?”

    Susan’s post yesterday found Ruth facing a similar decision, to leave or stay – in her case, the security of the known with her sisters or the uncertainty of ‘going’ with Naomi.

    In Susan’s post, Joan Chittister, . . . describes Ruth as making the choice filled with faith “that the God of yesterday is also the God of today, that the God who took one thing away has something else in store for her. How often many struggle with immense fear wondering what God has in store for them.

    Again from yesterday’s post, “Do we have the faith and courage of Ruth?” This morning’s second reading from Ephesians speaks of husbands and wives, and the homily spoke both of marriage’s struggles in remaining a couple and the struggles of life after divorce. Imagine a divorced and remarried Catholic near death frightful of what God has in store for them (him). . .

    If I may. . .

    I can still recall the first week of January the year my uncle Jerry passed away. He had congestive heart failure and was only days from being called home to be with God in Heaven. Though at the time, I wondered if he looked forward to that homecoming.

    I do not believe my uncle’s wife, my parents or my relatives knew how special my uncle had been to me. In many ways he was my second father.

    When I was a child, I fondly remember afternoon visits to the engineering field office where he worked. He introduced me to technical drafting and the tools an engineer and architect used in creating their drawings.

    As a youngster, my father had shift work and often there were weeks I hardly saw him at all. On many afternoons and on weekends I spent countless hours with my uncle. It was during his moments of being ‘banished’ to their basement by my aunt, a little joke between them, that we spent some of our most enjoyable time together.

    His major in music was stringed instruments and he was passionate about playing the bass and the violin. Though, I believed he loved restoring old, stringed instruments almost as much as playing newer ones. He had a passion for old violins and believed he helped bring them back to life. I remembered how he could take old violins no one else wanted and transform them into beautiful looking and wonderful sounding instruments once again. He did the same with old golf clubs, old persimmon drivers, old 3 and 4-woods. He showed me how to restore their wooden heads and make them playable once more. He gave many objects a new makeover and sought to make things he worked on perfect again. How perfect was his perception of himself? We shared many wonderful moments while he was ‘banished’ to the basement and I learned so much from him, much more than he ever realized.

    Only days before he passed away, why had my uncle asked my father if I would say a few words at his funeral? What had he hoped I would say? What had he hoped I could say that he had not already said or shared with his family, his loved ones and his friends? What had he hoped I could say on his behalf? I continually tried to outline my thoughts, struggled to begin and had no success. The morning of my uncle’s memorial mass I was still at a loss for words. Christine at a loss for words?

    Previously, I had been able to summon inspirational and spiritual words for most occasions. Why had it been so difficult with his request? Had my uncle asked me to share his life’s struggles, as well as his accomplishments, with his family, his friends, possibly with God? Had I been asked to be his voice? Why had he asked someone to speak for him? At that time, eulogies were seldom given by parishioners in our faith community and I was truly honored though filled with anxiety. Lord, please help me. I prayed.

    In our family’s parish church, full of loved ones and friends of all denominations, I said another prayer and shared what I believed my uncle may have been unable to express himself to the people he cared most about. That morning, I was honored to speak about him, possibly for him. I shared with everyone that my Uncle Jerry often felt he had not fulfilled God’s plan for him or achieved his dreams.

    He had occasionally mentioned feeling disappointed for not attaining the engineering degree he initially pursued. Was a degree in engineering his wish or the wish of his parents? My uncle earned his diploma from the same university where I earned mine. He graduated with a degree in music education, with a degree in a subject he was passionate about, the degree I believed he was destined to earn.

    Often he was burdened by the thought of not fulfilling his full potential working at the jobs he held. Would he have felt more successful if he had been able to support himself and his first wife with his degree in music? He left his teaching position and became a salesman for John Morrell after his father’s death.

    When I was a child he worked as an engineer’s helper at the same open pit iron mine as my father. Would his life have been more fulfilled if he had completed his engineering degree? Years later, he worked in the Training Department at the taconite plant in our town. Was training and teaching plant workers his dream job or would his preference have been teaching music to high school or college students?

    He experienced sorrow, shame and guilt when his first marriage ended in divorce. In the eyes of the church he had committed adultery and sinned when he remarried. During all those years, how difficult it must have been trying to be the best husband and father possible while he believed his marriage was not recognized by God. How difficult to have lived life burdened with the belief he had been unfaithful and sinful.

    Like many before him, my uncle occasionally felt unfulfilled, unsatisfied and had fears of letting go of this life. Had he been afraid of giving a full account? Many of us believe that the good we have accomplished in life might possibly be cancelled out by our transgressions. I believed my uncle had similar doubts.

    During his life, how and when had he become concerned, even fearful, of disappointing others? What an uncomfortable feeling to have lived life fearful we might be judged harshly ourselves. Was God the only judge my uncle believed he had? Our life on earth is challenging enough. How distressing to fear the end of life when an eternal new life is waiting for us, promised to us. Had my uncle believed God might not be compassionate and forgiving? Have we, do we?

    I continued by sharing his special gifts and accomplishments that morning. My uncle shared his love of music with us. With my Uncle Jerry’s inspiration, his wife Joyce, my Uncle John, Aunt Lois, Aunt Grace and my mother entertained us with instruments and song at most of our family celebrations and gatherings. My uncle was the choir director at our parish for almost twenty years and the Christmas and Easter music the choir played and sang added something special to our religious celebrations. His violin solo at Christmas brought a tear to my grandmother’s eye. His mother was very proud of her son, we were also proud of him. Music was my uncle’s voice of choice and he willingly shared that voice with everyone.

    His second marriage was a blessing. He was a wonderful husband to my aunt and an equally wonderful father to his two children. His son and daughter have become special individuals and I am sure they are very special in God’s eyes. I know he was most proud of his family, a family his religion instructed should never have been formed. I prayed that God, in all His mercy, saw things differently than the church’s theologians and leaders who my uncle possibly thought judged him.

    I also shared how my uncle influenced my life. He was very special and I wanted everyone to know how extraordinary he was.

    I believed when my uncle passed away he had finally let go of his earthly life and experienced the peace and happiness he had been seeking. The prayers of everyone who loved him and the words I shared on his behalf hopefully helped prepare him for his new life in Heaven. I was confident he was more at peace than ever, finally at peace with himself. I prayed that by eventually letting go of earthly life he had overcome all fear and regret and had begun to experience the blessings of his new life. Why had my uncle been unable to offer his life to God any sooner? What worries did he have? What worries do we have?

    I closed by reminding everyone that the most precious gift we will ever receive is our gift of life. Our life is a gift from God. It is a precious gift that we do not have to earn or save for, a gift that we do not have to study and pass a test to receive, a gift that is not a prize we must win, a gift that does not come as a reward for emeritus service or performance. Our precious gift of life is a gift that is given freely and with one request. A request that we reverence our gift, nurture our gift and share our gift with everyone we encounter, share our gift with all of creation. It is a simple request that we often have difficulty sharing easily and openly.

    Often, it is easier for us to perform acts of kindness than it is for us to share are true feelings. All too frequently we are unable to express them because we are worried how others will respond to us if we do.

    Does concealing our inner most thoughts and feelings help us avoid controversy and enjoy a more calm and peaceful relationship with the special people in our lives? The opposite is often true. Our silence, our lack of transparency in our relationships, provides us with a false sense of peace and happiness. Why do we remain silent, unable to share our most guarded feelings? What holds us back from sharing our less than perfect selves with the people dearest to us, with God? Can sharing our most protected feelings cause us any more anxiety and conflict than when they are concealed? When we live a guarded life, our relationships are seldom blessed with all the peace and happiness we desire and the sweet serenity we are promised. . .

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