He Called, They Followed

Today’s Gospel is Matthew’s account of the call of the first disciples by Jesus.  Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, he told them to come follow him and he would make them fishers of men.  “At once they left their nets and followed him.”  Then Jesus saw James and John and called them, “and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.

“At once” they left their nets and followed Jesus.  “Immediately” they left their boat and father and followed Jesus.

What made those men drop everything and follow Jesus?  There is a poem written by the late Roland Flint, who taught at Georgetown when I was a student there in the late 1970s, that asks the same question.  It is titled Follow.

Now here is this man mending his nets
after a long day, his fingers
nicked, here and there, by ropes and hooks,
pain like tomorrow in the small of his back,
his feet blue with his name, stinking of baits,
his mind on a pint and supper – nothing else –
a man who describes the settled shape
of his life every time his hands
make and snug a perfect knot.

I want to understand, if only for the story,
how a man like this,
a man like my father in harvest,
like Bunk MacVane in the stench of lobstering,
or a teamster, a steelworker,
how an ordinary working stiff,
even a high tempered one,
could just be called away.

It’s only in one account
he first brings in a netful –
in all the others, he just calls,
they return the look or stare and then
they “straightaway” leave their nets to follow.
That’s all there is.  You have to figure
what was in that call, that look.

(And I wouldn’t try it on a tired working man
unless I was God’s son –
he’d kick your ass right off the pier.)

If they had been vagrants,
poets or minstrels, I’d understand that,
men who would follow a different dog.
But how does a man whose movement,
day after day after day,
absolutely trusts the shape it fills
put everything down and walk away?

I’d pass up all the fancy stunting
with Lazarus and the lepers
to see that one.

For me this poem captures a question that can only be satisfactorily answered by experiencing Christ.  What made those men drop everything is not something that can be explained intellectually, in a manner satisfactory to someone who has not had a personal encounter. What moved them was Jesus.  They responded to Jesus and what kept them with him was the relationship they had with him.

That says something about the importance of our own personal encounter with Jesus.

Thanksgiving, Today and Every Day

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  Many people will be gathering with family and friends over tables laden with delicious food.

It is good that we have a day on our annual calendar devoted to giving thanks. However, if we live our lives with the awareness that everything is gift from God, then every day is Thanksgiving Day.

An important step in the Ignatian Examen, something that has been part of my daily prayer for many years, is to review our day in gratitude. Dennis Hamm, S.J., suggests that we “walk through the past 24 hours, from hour to hour, from place to place, task to task, person to person, thanking the Lord for every gift you encounter.” The idea is to notice, as we look back over our day, all of the many gifts we were given over the course of the day. We recall quite specifically all of our gifts and we give thanks.

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, let us also say a prayer for those whose tables will not be as laden with food as yours, who will go to bed as hungry tonight as they do every night.

I wish all of you a blessed day of giving thanks, today and every day.

Today I Must Stay at Your House

Today’s Gospel from Luke is one that always touches me – the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus.

Although the Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus is up in a tree because he was short and could not otherwise see Jesus, I always see his presence in that tree as a sign of his separation from others.  A wealthy tax collector who amassed his wealth by cheating others, he was doubtless unpopular.  I’m guessing he was not someone who was on the guest list of most people’s dinner parties and that most people wanted nothing to do with him.  In that sense, he is an outcast.

Yet Jesus comes along and invites himself to Zacchaeus  house, essentially saying, “I want to be with you, despite whatever wrongs you may have committed.  Let’s break bread together.”  And Zacchaeus responds to Jesus by promising to give half of all he has to the poor and to repay all he has cheated.

Jesus welcomes all, offering love without regard to merit.  And his doing so often draws out the best in others.  His action toward them encourages their conversion.

As we seek to grow in imitating Jesus’ ways, this strikes me as a good place to focus.  Do I behave toward others in a way that draws out the best in them?  Do I offer the same love and acceptance Jesus does, the very offer of which encourages a conversion of heart?

Sharing Our Christian Hope

The Benedictine Center at St. Paul Monastery just posted part 2 of my two-part reflection on hope.  The reflection was drawn from an evening program I gave at the Benedictine Center last week, which referenced here.

The reflection posted today spoke about what sharing our Christian hope might look like in today’s world.

One of the points I made in part 2 is that conveying our Christian hope means we cannot allow ourselves to be demoralized by the brokenness of the world around us.  I quoted Henri Nouwen, who wrote

Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior.  People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.

That is what we do – we walk in a broken world pointing to the flashes of light that reveal the hidden but real presence of God.

You can read the entirety of my reflection on the Benedictine Center’s site here.

Faith-Based Social Justice Efforts

Some people’s spiritualities are more contemplative; others are more apostolic.  My own Ignatian spirituality as the latter – Ignatius invites us to help build God’s kingdom, right here and right now.

Not all people who care about social justice work from a faith perspective, but many do.  And those who do benefit from training and nurturing.  In that vein, I share here an initiative of the UU Fellowship in Huntington New York, to support their leaders in their work for justice, while deepening their spiritual grounding and supporting their overall development as leaders.  Their hope is to develop a curriculum that may ultimately be a model and resource, not only for their denomination, but for others.  You can read more detail about the project here.

I learned about this through a young woman I have known for a number of years through her friendship with my daughter.  She is a women of deep faith and deep commitment to social justice.  I have decided to financially support this venture and I am hoping you might consider doing so as well.

I know this is a time of year when many institutions are asking for money.  My mail contains at least several request every day, not to mention e-mails or phone calls asking for contributions.  But, please take a look at this project; a gift of any size would help!


Find That Flame

One of Hafiz’s poems instructs

Find the flame, that existence, that person
That can burn beneath the water.

No other kind of flame
Will cook the food
You need.

I had read the poem before, and found it again in an old issue of a magazine for spiritual directors.  The piece in which the poem appeared, by Lizz Budd Ellmann, offered the following questions for reflection.  You might consider one or more of them today.

What is the flame that cooks the food you need?

Where is the flame that cooks the food needed for peace?

What is the food you need to truly sustain you?

What is your poem about the flame that burns beneath water, transforming the world?

We Dare To Hope

Last week I offered an evening program at the Benedictine Center of St. Paul Monastery titled We Dare to Hope.  The title of the program came from a prayer written by Linda Jones.  The words are:

We dare to imagine a world where hunger has no chance to show its face.
We dare to dream of a world where wars and terror are afraid to leave their mark.
We long to believe in a world of hope unchained and lives unfettered.
We dare to work for the creation of a world where your people are free from poverty.  Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done. Amen.

The talk I gave addressed what we mean by hope and why hope is the central gift that we as Christians have to give our world.  I also spoke about what sharing our Christian hope might look like.

The Benedictine Center asked me to write something for their blog that captured my remarks of that evening.  Those remarks will be published in two parts.  The first part has been posted, and you can read it here.  Look for the second part next week.

The bottom line is this:  We cannot become demoralized by the brokenness of the world in which we live.  We must dare to hope and must share that hope.  The consequences of not doing so would be deadly, not only to our own well-being, but to that of the world.