Sunday, November 30, 2014

Are You Watching?

One of the perks, or more appropriately, blessings of my years as a high school chaplain was the chance I had to chaperone several trips to Europe.  It was on the first of these trips that I learned an important lesson from our tour guide. Arriving in London, our group was certainly tired from our travel, but we were excited to begin our adventure.  Our first stop, however, did not seem to be so adventurous.  Our guide brought us to a cafe and told us to get ourselves something to eat or drink and after we did he encouraged us to put our maps away and simply watch the crowd go by.  At first this sounded like a terribly boring thing to do.  But after a short while we found ourselves pointing out the various sights and people.  Some even chatted about how the coffee or the pastry tasted different from what they had at home.  When our guide asked us if we were ready to move on, we found ourselves asking for a little more time to watch and take it all in.

What this seemingly unexciting activity allowed us to do was to observe the pace of life, the fashion, the culture, the characteristics of people, what they eat, the smells of the city, the architecture.  This simple activity introduced us very quickly to a new culture and way of life, an experience we would not have if we did not take the opportunity to stop and watch for awhile.

I continue to remember this lesson and apply it, not only when I go to new places, but I try to remind myself to do this in everyday life.  We learn best when we watch and observe.  When we have responsibilities to fulfill we are at our best when we "watch what we are doing."  How often we hear a child say, "watch me Mommy," as he or she accomplishes something new. Being watchful and attentive is an excellent way for us to acknowledge the value and giftedness of others.

As we begin the season of Advent, the word, "Watch" describes the disposition we need to have if we wish to be nourished by the blessings of the season. Taking a step back to simply watch, is so contrary to the rhythm of life this season.  We are busy with many tasks during these days and we are pulled in various directions.  It is necessary, therefore, to set aside the time to watch and observe.

Advent watching is about two perspectives.  This season is about watching and waiting to celebrate once again the birth of the savior in time. Advent is also characterized by our watching and waiting for the second coming of Christ in the end time; as well as the presence of the savior in our everyday life. The Advent season is alerting us to the call to vigilantly watch for the savior here and now.

In order for us to watch for a savior, however, we must acknowledge that we are in need of a savior.  Why watch for a savior if I don't need to be saved?  I love going for a swim in the ocean, but I am consciously aware of the location of the lifeguards because I know that despite my ability to swim, I may need to be saved.  During this season we are watching for a savior, because we have observed our own need for one.

"Watch yourself," we sometime admonish each other if we sense the other is stepping into danger. My nephews are visited everyday by Fred, their elf on a shelf who watches them and reports back to Santa if they are bad or good. Knowing that Fred is watching, is really an exercise in being aware of one's own behavior.  Most importantly then, we ask the Lord for the grace and the courage to observe ourselves.  Watch the language you are using.  Watch your habits that are annoying or harmful to others.  Watch the relationships and people you take for granted or abuse. Watch how someone is waiting for you to apologize. Watching for a savior makes no sense if I have not first observed that I need to be saved from my sin and imperfections.

During these days find yourselves an Advent Cafe where you can watch and observe.  Find the time to be watchful and quietly say, "Come, Lord Jesus," and watch what happens.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

How lovely is your dwelling place

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

A year and a half ago, we completed a major renovation project of our church. We were able to turn what was part church and part multipurpose area into one single space of noble simplicity for worship. The final product was well received. One aspect of the work has still remained, however.  Several panels of stained glass were removed in order to create a new sanctuary wall.  We have been trying to find creative ways to reincorporate these windows into the renovated space.  Last week we found a space for some of those pieces.  

In the renovated sanctuary a full length piece of translucent material was placed behind the tabernacle.  The intention was to surround the tabernacle with natural light.  In the end, after living with it for over a year, most of us felt that the image created was underwhelming.  Thanks to the skills and ingenuity of our maintenance staff, three of the glass panels were fashioned to be inserted in the wall behind the tabernacle. The transformation was amazing, the insertion of the stained glass transformed the sanctuary. What was already a renewed place for worship was enhanced and a renewed sense of the sacred was evident.

Churches can be lavish and beautifully adorned or they can be of a simple construct, but God’s dwelling within them is no less significant. Appreciating our churches as sacred dwelling places of God also gives us an opportunity to proclaim the truth that the divine chose to dwell in the human experience. The sacred dwelling place of a church is a symbol of the temple which is the human person, first in Jesus Christ and then all of us. Like a church the human person can have profound intelligence, observable beauty, athletic skill and strength.  However, the human person can also be burdened with pains, sorrows and limitations beyond endurance. God’s dwelling is no less significant in anyone of them.

Earlier this week I concelebrated the funeral mass of Patricia and Derek Ward. The previous week, Pat lost her life at the hand of her son, Derek, who subsequently took his own life. The principal celebrant of the mass was our diocesan bishop, William Murphy and the homilist was Fr. Robert Lubrano, the brother and uncle of the deceased. I have never been present for a double funeral let alone one in which the circumstances were as unfathomable as this one. I do not know how Fr. Bob was able to preach as he did, I don’t know if I could have managed to put a comprehensible sentence together. 

It was one of the most powerful reflections I have ever heard. Fr. Bob preached about how his sister was the personification of Jesus’ great commandment to love. In particular, those who are difficult to love. Her career in teaching was one dedicated to the marginalized who she believed had the right to an education that would empower them to better opportunities in life. She applied that same loving effort to her son, whose mental illness and learning disabilities made it difficult for him to read. Through her steadfast love, he became an avid reader. She loved him as his mental illness grew uncontrollable and she struggled to find care for him. Over and over again, at this funeral of his sister and nephew, Fr. Bob challengingly spoke of the dignity of the human person, no matter how broken or sinful and their God given right to be loved and cared for.

The event of Pat and Derick's death generated a great deal of media attention.  In one way, I was glad that there was no media present for the funeral mass, but I also found myself wishing that the larger world, who knew of the tragedy, also had the opportunity to hear the profound words of faith spoken by a grieving brother and uncle.  I therefore felt called to share what I could. In a week in which my parish community was given an renewed opportunity to acknowledge the presence of God in the sacred dwelling place of a church, I was reminded to recognize his presence in the sacred dwelling place of the human person.  We must commit ourselves to acknowledging and caring for that presence in our brothers and sisters of all faiths, orientations, ethnicity, and abilities great and small. 
Fr. Bob began his homily and I conclude this reflection with these words from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.