Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Matthew Kelly

I know I got you all excited out Mr. Kelly last week, and I don't aim to disappoint! The one thing that struck me about his 4 hour session (4. F-O-U-R hour session!) is how entertained I was. I expected to be inspired and receive a lot of insight about the faith, but he was much more. The man has a real gift for drawing you in. A true story-teller in the old bard tradition. I felt like I had spent the evening sharing the corner of a bar and hearing about his life over a beer by the end. I wanted to try and tell you who he is, because I'm assuming that most of you, like me, only know his written voice. But inside all of the laughs and insights was something profound. His sense of urgency. There is a real message of RIGHT NOW! I've been given the pleasure of previewing his new book and ironically (or not so ironically), it's about the same thing. I don't want to give a synopsis of his book here. You should really read it for yourself. I just wanted to convey something I wrote a couple blogs back. He talks about resistance. Up until now I haven't been able to put a word to it. It's so clear now. How we, as human beings, are constantly struggling with it. I think I've come to my personal place of understanding with this concept.

My resistance comes from being overwhelmed. I look at the mountain and think, "There is no way I'm getting to the top." I could be training on smaller hills, or even start my assent on smaller, easier climbs. I find myself though, instead, sitting at the bottom of the mountain playing on my phone, waiting for the inspiration to start what seems an impossible task. I think we all have that predilection. We want write a novel, but don't start with the first page. We want to run a marathon, but won't put our sneakers on and go around the block. We want to lose weight, but don't push away the piece of cake. OK, I said "we", but I meant me. But I thought that sharing it in the plural would help you realize the thing that you've been putting off because of intimidation. I think this works for our relationship with God too. I don't think we can set off with a clear image of what it must be like to be Padre Pio or St. Theresa, to be that in tune with God. It seems unattainable for us regular Christians. But that's just it. Jesus calls us to be as locked in as we can be at this moment. He just wants the seconds or minutes we can give. He wants us to concentrate for as long as we can in our busy, noisy minds.

So that's my thought for this week. Let's just start. Let's forget about everything else we have to do. Let's forget about the little things that keep us from the big things. Let's start on that path, and trust that we have the best personal coach in the universe.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Faith in Action

I was planning on writing about getting to see Matthew Kelly last Friday, but something else has been on my mind. The question keeps coming up, "Am I living out the Gospel message to the fullest?" There have been several moments that have drawn me back to this question recently. One is a chapter from a book the parish staff has been reading A Church on the Move by Joe Paprocki. It's an excellent study on where the Catholic Church currently is and where it could be. It addresses the framework of the parish in light of Jesus' message and exhortations from Pope Francis. Chapter 43 focuses on those that are in need. He talks specifically about the poor in a financial sense. There are a lot of really wonderful suggestions on how to meet their needs as a parish, but it led me to a deeper question. What about those that are deprived in other ways? What about the grieving widow, or the depressed and lonely, or those that have hardships or are dealing with a crisis? This leads to the Biblical question, "Who is my neighbor?" I am drawn in by this weeks Gospel reading, the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The point that keeps sticking out is that Jesus never says that the rich man is aware of Lazarus' suffering. The point is that this man was so caught up in his own world, that he paid no attention to what was going on around him. He built a chasm between himself and the outside world. Lazarus didn't even have access to the scraps from his table. (Did the rich man even keep his garbage on lock down?!) That chasm get reemphasized when Abraham tells the man that that is exactly what exists between Heaven and Hell.What is scary for me is that Jesus isn't talking about addressing just the needs that we are aware of, but that we need to increase our awareness and seek out those places of need.

This brings me to my friend. Please excuse the story, but I feel like this needs to be explained. We are only Facebook friends. We have never met in person and neither of us can recall how we even became connected electronically. She randomly chatted me up one day based on something I posted. Suffice it to say, we talked about how many kids we have, where we're from, the usual small talk. As our conversations progressed she shared with me that her mother is very ill and she needs intervention that her current situation is not providing. So, how is this relevant to the previous paragraph? She started a gofundme page in hopes that people would be moved to assist her in any way they can. Long story short (I know, I'm way past that), it hasn't been going so well. Last time we talked, it has raised about $90. The hardest part is the spiritual toll that it's taking. She is not Catholic, but is very connected to her congregation and she has a very robust faith life. Part of the issue is the cold reception she received from her faith community. She wonders what that translates to as a reflection of faith.

What a question! What does faith look like? Is it faithfully attending Mass every Sunday, going to confession monthly, putting our offering in the basket, belonging to a prayer group? Or is it something bigger? Is it being so in love with Our Lord and his flock, that we are moved to action when we see a need? Is it acting how He would in those situations? When someone asked Jesus to heal them, he didn't respond with, "Can't, it's the Sabbath." or "Umm, you're a Samaritan, no can do." No Mosaic law would keep Him from doing His Father's will. We can obviously see from his actual responses that the Father's will is to love Him and love our neighbor. I would be typing until next week if I tried to elucidate what love is. But I certainly know what it looks like. People will do just about anything when they are in love: move across the country, quit their job, turn their entire lives upside down. If that's the case what should we look like if we're in love with God and our neighbor? We are called to action when we love. "Faith without works is dead." To expound on the message of the Gospel and do nothing about it is to be a "clanging gong or tinkling cymbal". I'm going to include the link to her gofundme page. I am in no way telling you that you need to or should donate. But if you feel moved to do something, then you should. What I will leave you with is a parting thought, that we all need to look around us and see how we can live out the Gospel by helping others. The Kingdom of God is certainly at hand if we choose to remake the world in His image.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Joe Raposo

If you didn't Google the name in the title, I'm guessing you're scratching your head right now, "Who is Joe Raposo?" And if you didn't click on his name right there, then allow me to elucidate. Mr. Raposo was a composer. He wrote beautifully and simply. He wrote the theme songs of my childhood. He wrote for Sesame Street and The Muppets. You're actually quite familiar with his work already. Being Green, Sing, C is for Cookie are all songs to which you most likely know at least the refrain by heart (My apologies if any of these are now stuck in your head. It may take a week or more until it subsides.). While there aren't many song writers out there that can create a song about an aardvark from a first person perspective, that's not what I want to focus on here.

Joe wrote a song that I haven't been able to get out of my head this week. I hope you've heard it. Somebody Come and Play. Yes, it's a children's song sung by a muppet. But it speaks to something so much deeper. It's the child's version of No Exit or Waiting for Godot. There is a yearning in it. It calls out to us the deep need for "the other". We were built for this, for human contact, for authentic relationship. We are constantly asking if anybody will want to "come and play today".

I guess Raposo might have had someone in mind when he wrote this, but I like to imagine that the emphasis is in the lack of a particular person. It's like he's saying, "It doesn't matter who you are, or what you believe, or where you come from, or what you brought to play with. I want to play with YOU, whoever you are. Just be you, and be my friend, and share yourself with me and I will love you for it." Do we do that anymore? Looking back, I know that my happiest times were spent with others. I don't think I need to expound on this. I'm sure everyone can recall laughing a little harder, being more at peace, feeling just a little more present when they are with people who are really engaged. I fear that this song rings so true because I've lost a little bit of that. I want real, authentic experiences, but I don't find myself doing the things necessary to make them happen.

I am so tempted to rail against social media and smart phones right now. How we've substituted "coming out to play" with Facebook updates. Even when I'm with people I want to be around, I find myself turning to the phone, checking a text message, seeing who liked my last comment, etc. It's become so habitual, I don't even think about it. While I won't go so far as to call it an addiction, it has become vice. But I'm not going to delve into my electronic crutch. I want to get to the root of the matter.

I think I've fallen prey (dare I say "we"?) to the post-modern condition. The world is so accessible, that contact with others has become commonplace. It used to take effort to meet up with friends. It used to take a proactive move to keep up with people. Connecting has become so easy, but I'm not really connecting. I'm getting updates. I think we are suffering because of it. We were built for interaction. We have five senses that all need to be engaged. I want to feel a hug. I want to hear your voice or laughter (LOL just doesn't cut it). I want to smell a charcoal grill or freshly brewed coffee. I want your eyes to look into mine as I talk about something that is important to both of us. I want to  be in the moment, fully engaged. I can't do that on a screen. I can't do that when the screen becomes a barrier even when you are physically present.

I'm not challenging anyone reading this to go on a cell phone fast, or cut out technology. I don't yearn for the days before electronic communication. I just feel like I need to get past it. I need to rely on the real things. I don't know the perfect answer to what I perceive as the problem. But I think I'm going to start not by cutting back, but by doing more. By really being intentional with what I do: my conversations with others, my conversations in prayer, when my children are participating in the serious work of play, the few precious minutes alone with my spouse. I really feel if I approach everything I do with purpose, it will all become more important. I will be more careful with how I spend my hours.

This brings me to my final point about the song. It not only asks for someone to come and play, but it implores that it happens today. What a powerful notion! Take the time "to ride the rides and sing the songs, it won't take long". It's so simple, yet so profound. The promise to eventually be in the moment, is another excuse to put off happiness; to delay the gratification of real human interaction. So let's really listen to what Ernie is singing about. Let's really get to the heart of the matter. Let's find what really makes us happy and do it.