What Do I Need to Leave Behind?

When I walked the Camino the fall before last, the clothes I took for an almost six-week trip fit into a relatively small plastic bag.

I thought of that as I listened to today’s Gospel in Mass this morning.  St. Mark describes Jesus sending out the Apostles two by two, with the instruction “to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.”

I loved the freedom I enjoyed both on the Camino and during the time I lived in Nepal and India, largely living out of what I could carry on my back.   It is a freedom we don’t often enjoy, as we can easily let ourselves be weighed down by more belongings than we really need.

As a practical matter, it would be very difficult for us to follow Jesus’ instructions to the T; we don’t live in a world that easily accommodates our playing our role in God’s plan carrying absolutely nothing for the journey.

But that doesn’t mean there is not an invitation for us in this Gospel, as I’ve suggested on other occasions.

First, how much am I willing to rely on God rather than on myself?  Do I have faith that God will provide us with what we need as we go about proclaiming the Gospel. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to make any preparation, but it does mean that we remind ourselves that, ultimately, it is God who steers our ship, not us.  (The deepening of this realization was one of the graces of the retreat I did last month.)

Second, what distracting baggage can we leave behind?  What is the baggage that distracts us from fully offering Jesus’ peace and love to those with whom we come in contact?  (Again, this was something I spent some time reflecting on during my retreat, and it was quite revealing.)



While You Were Gone…

I was largely “off-grid” for the week of my retreat and am now catching up with the events of the world.  An awful lot happened in that one week!

Some of it was exciting: the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment gallops first to mind.  I’ll refrain from any specific comments until I’ve had a chance to read the entire document, but I know there will be much there that can and should affect our relationship with the world.

Some of the news was tragic: the shooting in the Charleston church.  That one broke through my silence – I heard it in the petitions at Mass the morning after it happened.  It remained in my prayers throughout that day.

Some of the news was a source of both sadness and relief: the resignation of the Archbishop of the Minneapolis-St. Paul diocese. I am saddened by so much that has to do with this entire story, but also relieved since I believe it signals the beginning of much needed healing in this diocese.

Through all the news, good and bad, I hear God’s voice: Trust in me.  I am with you always.  Good or bad, do not be afraid.

Judas and Peter

Today’s Gospel from John is of Jesus and his friends at the Last Supper.  In today’s segment, Jesus predicts both Judas’ betrayal of him and Peter’s denial of him.

As I read the passage, I was reminded of a reflection offered on Palm Sunday as part of the UST Lent Reflection Series by Robert Kennedy, Professor and Chair of UST’s Catholic Studies Department.  He observed that the “principal actors” in the story of Jesus’ passion “all act out of very human motives, or perhaps one ought to say human weaknesses. These weaknesses are envy, fear and distrust.”

Speaking of Judas and Peter, Professor Kennedy wrote

Judas certainly did not trust, did not have faith in, Jesus. Regardless of what he had witnessed, he doubted the faithfulness and power of God and took things into his own hands. And Peter, who had more reason than anyone to have faith, was overcome by fear and adamant in his distrust.

How characteristic these weaknesses are, not only of these men, but of all of us. How many of us would act differently if we had been in their places? Envy, fear and distrust are such common drivers of human failing. But the story of Jesus’ Passion and death is, among other things, the story of his humility, his courage and his ultimate confidence in the wisdom and power of God. The real remedy for these weaknesses and not a bad lesson for us.

You can read the entirety of Professor Kennedy’s reflection here.

What If

I had a frustrating couple of days. In an attempt to fix a problem I had been having since getting my new computer at the law school (we lease computers and they are replaced every three years), IT managed to accidentally eliminate all of my e-mail archive folders. Since I use those folders like a file cabinet, they are not really “archives;” rather, many of the thousands of messages and attachments stored there contain material I currently need.

Fortunately, by the middle of the day yesterday, my files were restored, so my only loss was the loss of almost two days of working time at my computer while IT sought to solve the problem. But my anxiety ran high, fueled by various other, albeit smaller, things that were not going smoothly.

At one point yesterday, while Kelly was working on my computer, I was standing outside of my office looking at something I had taped to my door. An excerpt from Bandon Bays book Freedom Is, it was exactly what I needed to read. Here it is:

What if you realized that everything that is taking place is happening for a reason and a purpose that you can’t fully understand yet?…What if you were to fully, completely, and utterly just accept what’s here?…

What if it is entirely the will of grace and is out of your hands?…What if there is nothing you can do, should do or ought to do to fix it?…What if you finally felt what it feels like to completely and totally relax and accept that what is here is what is meant to be, in this moment?…

What if, in absolutely accepting, you chose now to stop struggling…give up…relax…just relax…let go?…

What if, as you let go, you felt yourself deeply releasing, falling, opening, relaxing into a spacious embrace of infinite presence?…What if this presence was surrounding you, suffusing you, pulling you ever deeper…opening…relaxing… trusting…trusting…trusting?…

How would it feel to rest in an ocean of trust…just being…effortless being?…

What if you gave up the need to figure it out, find the answers, fix it, change it, make it right? What if you just accepted totally that what is here is what is here?…

Reading those words helped me to breathe a little easier, reminding me that this was what was. I could do nothing to change the situation. All I could do was stop struggling and let go.

Take Me As I Am

Sometimes I feel more fragile than others. More broken. Less able to handle the things I need to do – at all, let alone well.

It is good to remember in those moments that God will meet me wherever I am. God will love me however I am. And God will work with whatever I have to offer, God will summon out all that I can be.

In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus sees Levi the tax collector and calls to him, “Follow me.” And Levi gets up and follows. Jesus didn’t wait for Levi to get his act together before inviting him to join him. He took him just as he was. And he was able to call forth from Levi much more than Levi would have been on his own.

Let The Children Come to Me

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus’ disciples rebuke people who were bringing their children to Jesus “that he might lay his hands on them and pray.” Jesus responds by instructing them, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

What does Jesus mean? What does it mean to say the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?

What qualities do children have that we might learn from?

I can think of at least two.

First, children often possess an openness to mystery that adults sometimes lack. Edith Stein once suggested that insights into the “truths of faith” neither require scholarly education nor are beyond a child’s powers of comprehension. And, she observed, “[t]he strong desire to be introduced to the mysteries of God is often stronger in small children than in adults.” I don’t know that I agree with Stein that children posess stronger desire, but I do think children have an openness to mystery and an ability to experience it with bare awareness, that does not come so easily to many adults.

Second, children have a greater awareness of their dependence than do adults. Poverty of spirit, the first of the Beatitudes, has little do to with material poverty and everything to do with our recognition of our absolute dependence on God, of our appreciation that all we are and all we have is gift from our loving God. Acknowledging that dependence is something many people have great difficulty with; we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, able to to everything on our own. Perhaps Jesus is holding up the children’s recognition of their dependence on others.

Those are the two qualities of children that come to my mind when I read this passage. Perhaps you can think of others.

Recombobulate Me

Recombobulate. Isn’t that a great word? The Urban Dictionary defines recombobulate, “To put something back the way it was, or into proper working order.”

Earlier this week, my friend Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaparlanda blogged about feeling discombobulated. The last year of year of her life has seen many changes – the marriage of two daughters, the birth of two grandchildren, the deaths of two beloved friends. In all, she described it as a “yearlong discombobulation.”

What most touched me was her prayer: “Recombobulate me, Lord – but let it be in your own time, and not in mine.”

It is a bold prayer. So often our response to the changes that upset our normal rhythm is to find ways to pull ourselves out of the uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible. “Get me out of this now, Lord,” is what many would think, even if they didn’t utter the words as prayer.

Recombobulate me – in your time, not mine, expresses a willingness to sit in the discomfort, in what sometimes seems like chaos, and perhaps to learn something from the experience. The end result of the process won’t be to put things back the way they were, like the Urban Dictionary definition suggest, but it will put us where we need to be.

Recombomulate me, Lord – but let is be in your own time, and not in mine.

What Do you Fear?

I went to Mass at St. Hubert’s yesterday morning, giving me the opportunity, for the first time, to hear a sermon from their new Associate Pastor Fr. John Dress.

He began by focusing on a portion of the Gospel I did not address in my post yesterday – the opening line, in which Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid any longer little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Fr. John suggested that before we can trust the invitation to not be afraid, we should ask “What are we afraid of?” With respect to the parable in the Gospel, he suggested the servant feared the master would not arrive, and thus sought to assuage his emptiness and need in various other pursuits.

Fr. John’s analysis of what the servant was afraid of may or may not have been accurate, but was not really what struck me. It is the invitation to ask what we are afraid of – to really examine our fears – that I think is so important. We all have fears; if we didn’t Jesus wouldn’t so often have said in the Gospels “Do not be afraid.”

As he said to his disciples, he says to us, “Do not be afraid.” I think we can trust that promise fully only if we know what it is that we fear in the first place.

Can’t You Trust Him?

This week I attended a beautiful parish penitential service at St. Thomas Apostle church in Minneapolis. I was deeply moved by both the penitential litany that aided in an examination of conscience and the healing laying on of hands that was a central part of the service.

The opening song for the service is one we’ve sung at St. Thomas Apostle during Wednesday evening prayer services during Lent, titled Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door, the text of which comes from an African-American spiritual.

Over and over the songs asks, “O sinner, why don’t you answer? Somebody’s knocking at your door.” The four solo lines introducing the repeated refrain are simple, but they touch me:

Knocks like Jesus, Somebody’s knock-in’at your door.
Can’t you hear him?…
Jesus calls you,…
Can’t you trust him?…

It is the last one that stops me every time we sing the song. “Can’t you trust him?”

It is a good question to sit with.

Jesus is calling. Constantly. Over and over. Wanting us to say yes to deepening our life in him. Wanting us to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” as we hear on Ash Wednesday.

What prevents us from answering? Is it a lack of trust?

Don’t you trust him? If yes, what’s stopping you from answering? If not, how do you need God to be with you to increase your trust?

A Pilgrim Spirit

I have been thinking a lot about pilgrimage, as I begin early stages of planning for my pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago this fall.

The other day I thumbed through a short book written some years ago by my friend Ed Sellner on pilgrimage, titled (fittingly enough) Pilgrimage.

At one point Sellner observes that there are bound to be hitches on any pilgrimage, even days when nothing seems to go right. One reponse to the inevitable hitches is to get frustrated and irritated. But that, he suggests, is not the “pilgrim spirit.” Rather, “the pilgrim spirit is about trusting that everything will (eventually) turn out for the best.”

Of course, what Sellner says about pilgrimage is no less true than in the rest of our lives. No matter how blessed we are, things don’t always go according to our plans. We face set-backs and suffering, large and small.

We are, thus, no less in need of a pilgrim spirit at home than when on pilgrimage. A spirit that trusts that (in the words of Julian of Norwich) “all will be well, and all will be well.” Maybe not today, and maybe not even tomorrow, but all will turn out to be well.

A pilgrim spirit is about trust. Trust that enables us to give up on our need to control every aspect of every situation. Trust in the God who loves us and is always with us.