Switchback

Do you know the term “switchback”? or maybe the sailing term “tacking.” – If I’m not mistaken, both refer to making progress by taking a zigzag sort of course – progress is made, but there’s an awful lot of switching direction. Rather like my take on today’s gospel…

Jesus talks about the two sons – the Father tells both of them what he wants them to do. The first one says “no way!” but later decides to go ahead and do his father’s will. The second says “Yes! certainly.” and then go on his merry way without doing anything.

It’s no good to try to figure out which of these children I am. I am both. In times of growing, I can hear a call and it hits so close to home that I turn and say “no way! I can’t do that. I won’t do that.” But, it eats at me, and I come around. Other times, I feel so interested, and say “yes!” and then I fail to do anything.

I am a convert to the Catholic Church. Now, I’ve been a Catholic Christian for far longer than I was a protestant Christian, but the path that got me here was the one of the older (?) or first brother from the gospel. I was sitting on a hill, in front of a fig tree near the Catholic Student Center when it occurred to me that I was to join this community. “Not me, God. You have the wrong person.” The very idea rocked my soul to the core. Good Calvinist Christians do not join the Catholic Church. No way.

As time passed, the idea wouldn’t leave me. I finally gave up fighting the request and began to go through the preparations to join the church. Funny, I went through the classes no less than 2 full rounds. And, in the end, I had to convince the priests and sisters that I was serious. I understand their hesitation – and they were right to try to make sure that I was serious. The road has not always been smooth, but, after the initial “No” I found I had to reconsider and say “Yes.”

The times when I am the second son are many and not so dramatic. And, right now, I am not even willing to address some of them in an open forum. But, the “Yes” with no follow-up happens more often than I would like.

This journey is one of switchbacks and tacking. It is good to know that God is always calling. It is good to know that the Spirit is there as the wind in my sails, even when I have to tack for a great distance. It is good to remember that “yes” can happen even after the initial turn-down and wise to remember that just because I say “yes” the task is not yet accomplished.

St. Vincent de Paul

Today I join my Vincentian brothers and sisters in celebrating the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.

My thoughts too jumbled to write much about how the life of this 17th century French priest has shaped my understanding of God’s love and how to live in response to that. He recognized the value of women and their contributions. He taught clergy to work with laity. He believed that action was necessary, but must be preceded by prayer and meditation. He used the tools of his day to communicate with others. He was inspired by the poor to work for and with the poor.

Timeless themes in my view. Practical ideas of how to live the Gospel.

And so I thank God, not only for Vincent’s life, but for the many who live out this Charism – especially those who are closest to me and walk parts of this journey with me.

More on Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian Charism and the many people and groups that have grown out of this Charism is available in the Vincentian Encyclopedia.

Stewardship

Susan talked about an epiphany of sorts in a post back in June: the “aha!” of the reality that the trees in her backyard may legally belong to her, but she really doesn’t own them. How true.

“Owning” land, or trees or even a house isn’t really ownership: it’s an obligation to stewardship. It has long seemed to me that when the book of Genesis states that man was given dominion over the world, that didn’t mean that we (humans) own the world, but that we are responsible for taking care of and with the land, the trees and the other creatures that share our world. This planet, this piece of creation is to be enjoyed, but not abused. It is to be respected and cared for. And this respect and care is not just for my benefit, but for all the world.

The same concept applies to Cooper and Grace. One paper, legally, I own 2 schnauzers. In reality, I have accepted the responsibility for these creatures. I am responsible for insuring that they are properly cared for. I am responsible for making sure that they get fed on a regular schedule, that they have a safe place to live, that they get attention and that they go visit the vet and keep up on immunizations and don’t suffer from parasites or other preventable illnesses. Rather like children, they are.

So, when the Stewardship committee at church begins to challenge us, I have to take that with the same seriousness. The life of the Christian community in my parish is a part of my responsibility. This life survives only with care and feeding — or is that prayer and participation? Just as with weeding the flowerbed, or paying attention to the dogs, this community thrives on the care and attention of those who consider themselves a part of it.

Some days I don’t feel like it — I don’t think I have the time or energy. Just like some evenings when the last thing I want is a hot dog sitting on my lap, but I give them a few minutes anyway. Or the evenings when I really don’t feel up to choir practice, but I go anyway.

Stewardship: I guess it’s really the required care and feeding/prayer and participation in life wherever you are.

Talents

We are all given talents – gifts, that is.  Jesus even taught about this in the parable where the 3 individuals were given varying talents. He goes away for a while and returns later to see how these talents were used… It sounds like a talent is like a dollar, but it could be anything. Anyway, as we all know, the one who got 5000, went out and doubled the amount. The same with 3000. But the one who had little, only 1000, buried them, and returned exactly what he received. The first 2 were praised, the 3 scolded and sent away.

It seems to be about investment. I have many gifts, many talents. Not great talents, not great gifts, but an adequate supply. These won’t make me famous. And, in my mind’s eye, they are probably minor talents. But, the ones that I have invested are the ones that have paid off.

I love music. I don’t have a wonderful voice — I’ve long suffered from allergies, and I’ve done things that haven’t helped my voice quality. Over the course of nearly 45 years, I have spent a lot of time with a guitar in my hands. I’m good enough to know how good I’m not. But, the investment has paid off. I am a parish musician.  As such, I have been put in intimate contact with music that expresses the things that I don’t have spoken words to express. I have had the opportunity to learn from other musicians. Scripture put to music speaks to me at many levels, and I remember it better. It has led me to read church documents of liturgy that I would probably have never looked at otherwise. It causes me to consider the Sunday readings more deeply as I try to select music to celebrate the themes. For me, the investment in this bit of a talent I have been given has paid back even more than the doubling of the gift that the 2 good servants experienced. I pray that this is what the Lord is asking of me.

In other areas, I’m a bit more like the bad servant. I’ve buried gifts that I don’t care to pursue. My mother has observed repeatedly that I always wanted to pursue things that I wasn’t good at, and ignore things that came easy or that I could be good at. Maybe that is true. I’m certain I have never lived up to my academic potential.

It’s funny though – the practice of crafting these posts is an investment in a talent that maybe I have buried. I thank my friends who encourage me to practice writing. I am grateful for their support of my investment in any small gift I have for stringing a bunch of words together to convey an idea.

With that said, I’ll also continue to encourage the gifts and talents of others. The ability to do that seems to be such a gift that I see in others, and one worthy of investment.

John 3:16 and beyond

I’ve not been in a reflective mood of late. But, Sunday, I was back at mass at St. Mary’s and, as happens on most Sundays, the homily caused me to stop and reflect.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.

Fr. Jack said the homily was still in the making. He got stuck at the word “gave” and proceeded to reflect on the gift – the gift of God’s Son. But through the weekend (I was at the last english mass), he had asked for reflections from the congregation… and so the homily grew.

“It’s not fully a gift until it is received.”

“A gift doesn’t have to be a thing – sometimes it’s a comment. Sometimes it’s just letting someone know that you are thinking of them.” (that from a 15 year old).

“He gave His Son – even to the point of giving him up to death. That has to be one of the hardest things for a parent to do.” (This from an oncology nurse, who has lost a child of her own.)

But, one that hit closest to home for me was the observation that John 3:16 is followed by John 3:17 – that’s the part that gets skipped… For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…

If Jesus didn’t condemn, I’d better be careful about my own judging and condemning. If Jesus doesn’t condemn, then when I judge others harshly and condemn them, I am not walking with Him. And, I am so good at lying to myself about the times I do that. When I am angry with someone because they didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations it seems that I try to convince myself that I am not judging. But I am. I’m holding that person up to my standards and my expectations and finding them lacking. Condemnation.

Better I should simply love them where they are. Not so easy. But definitely easier than being judge and jury.

The most peaceful place…

I’m home again.

I’ve been reminded that the most peaceful, glorious place to be is with a baby and/or toddler asleep in your arms. The world is right; the universe is right; God is present. It creates the sense of resting in God – or perhaps God resting with you.