Sunday, May 29, 2011

Food for the Journey

Baxter has a weight problem. I don’t like to remind him of it too often. When I call him a “fat cat” he gets insulted. I have had him on special weight control food from the veterinarian for many years. It costs me a bundle; it hasn’t worked; but Baxter is fat and happy with it, so I continue to provide the “special formula.” I swear to the vet that I only feed him a half a cup a day. She tells me that a weight problem is common in neutered, indoor male cats. They don’t get enough exercise roaming and hunting for food. Why spend energy when provisions are provided for you? Baxter isn’t dumb, just overweight.

Perhaps we need to consider the same question when it comes to our faith life. Hopefully, we feed our spirits on the Bread of Life every week or more often. We take in Christ through the Eucharist’s word, sacrament, community and leadership. We digest the message of the scriptures, and we draw close to the Lord in communion with His very Body and Blood. We enjoy the fellowship of the assembly gathered to offer worship, and we acknowledge Christ the Shepherd and Priest in the presider at the altar. We take it all in, but what do we do with it once the celebration is concluded.

Eucharist is not a bedtime snack to sleep on. It is food for the journey to give us the energy we need to keep moving through life’s encounters and challenges in faith. When we are told to “Go in peace,” this isn’t an injunction to rest and relax, but to go about the mission of the church with a sense of peaceful confidence and trust in God as we spread the Word and witness to God’s love for all in service. Evangelization is not something added on to our faith once we have free time from all the important things we do each day. It is making the mission of the Eucharist part of those important things. What we see and hear at worship we need to work at making visible, heard and effective in our daily activities. Certainly, we have to carry out our jobs efficiently and competently, but we also need to do so with a sense of caring for those affected by our work. We need to recognize opportunities to speak and offer guidance for upholding what we believe about God and humanity, not with a sense of self-righteous indignation but of humble respect for others that our faith allows us to see.

A Eucharistic attitude and style isn’t easy to achieve. That’s why we come back week after week to worship together and renew our communion in God with each other. But we worship not just for ourselves. We gather for Eucharist to become God’s agents in the world. Through the Holy Spirit Who renews His mark on us at every Eucharist, we are commissioned to transform the situations we face each day to be more Christ-like, more loving and generous, more respectful and hopeful, more transparent to the holy.

Baxter isn’t totally to blame for being fat and lazy. I don’t give him a lot to do around the house. But God charges us at every Eucharist to build the Kingdom, to make over the world as He wants it to be for us, to be evangelizers who give to others what we receive at Eucharist. There’s no place for fat and lazy Catholic Christians in the divine scheme of things. We are on a journey to the Kingdom, and everyone who is fed on the Body and Blood of Christ is sent to do Christ’s work on the way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Welcoming Strangers

Baxter made a scene the other day. I have never seen him so agitated and upset. Another cat set foot on the deck outside the glass doors in the bedroom. Baxter spotted it, and there was no calming him down. He hissed, spit, hissed, pawed at the glass, hissed, bared his teeth, hissed and wouldn’t stop until the intruder ran from the area. Even afterwards, Baxter was huffing and puffing for a while, starring at the empty space and intent on preventing any return of the stranger. It was a threat to Baxter’s claim on his kingdom, and there was no way he would tolerate it.

Although we hate to admit it, we sometimes act like Baxter. We throw a fit because some stranger comes into our world. It may not always be a new person. It may be a new idea, a new way of doing things, a new attitude to the situation, or a different style in the way we operate. The new is strange to us at first, and we don’t like the feelings of strange. We prefer the familiar, the tried and true. Those things are comfortable, reassuring, and allow us to be who we are used to being. When that comfort zone is disturbed, we get upset and try to get rid of what threatens our secure space.

So is it any wonder that they tried to get rid of Jesus when He challenged their religious space? He drove the money changers from the temple. He argued about the application of the Law with the religious authorities. He stretched the limits of forgiveness and mercy to seventy times seven and the prodigal son. He brought new judgment to bear on familiar situations when He said that Mary chose the better part and the one without sin should cast the first stone. He did things differently when He ate with tax collectors and sinners and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. Finally, He invaded everyone’s comfort zone when His resurrection released the Spirit to announce the Gospel to all peoples and invite them into the mystery of new life in baptism.

We may wish it didn’t have to be this way, but we can’t stay in place and think we can grow in the new life of grace. The Spirit of the Risen Lord brings new people, new thoughts, new attitudes and new ways into the Church of the Acts of the Apostles. If we reject everything new and different, we don’t give the Lord a chance to bring new life. Not that everything new is the best. Some strangers have sinister motives. Some new ways aren’t better than the old ones. Some new ideas are not an improvement, but foolish. But to know what brings new life and what just brings novelty, we have to be open to giving the new and different a chance to see what it is made of. If it is of God, we will see it in ways similar to Saint Luke’s description in the Acts of the Apostles:

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42, 44-45, 47b).

What are we doing to add to our number those seeking God’s salvation? If we won’t admit the stranger, we are limited to the familiar and the comfortable, and we won’t know new growth. But resurrection provokes growth, and to know this mystery of our salvation, we have to want to embrace it.

Baxter is purrfectly content with his space, his routine, and his life style. He is a cat. We are God’s children and disciples of the risen Lord Jesus. If we act like cats in a fight for our familiar territory, we are less than who we are called to be.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Running Water

Baxter loves running water. He prefers to drink from a spigot rather than from a bowl. If he has to drink water from a bowl, he paws at it until it moves and splashes, creating puddles around the bowl. In Baxter's mind, puddles are a small price to pay for moving water. Of course, his favorite drink comes right from the tap. His head gets soaking wet as do his paws when he places them under the stream. He then licks the pool formed from the water coming off of him. He is willing to bear the discomfort of a wet head and feet for the sake of a fresh, cool, lively drink. Of course, he shakes off after his thirst is satisfied and moves on. I am left with the clean up.

The waters of baptism are stirred for us this Easter season. At the Easter Vigil in our parish, we witnessed a person enter the new life of Christ through this Sacrament of the Church, and throughout this season, we are asked to reflect on the meaning of our own baptism and how it calls us to move our lives.

Baptism splashes in many directions to incorporate us into Christ's life. Through this ritual, we are claimed as a child of God. We are washed of sin and marked with the Spirit of Him at the same time. The mystery of dying and rising becomes the mystery of our own life journey when we become baptized Christians, and we share this journey with all others who are baptized as we become members of the Church, the Body of Christ. Who we are before God and who we are before others are joined in the mark of baptism that identifies us.

When was the last time we thoughtfully and prayerfully drank of the mystery of our baptism? We get a certificate that it happened. We register at a parish as members because we are baptized. But is the water stagnant for us? Is it just a matter of paper forms and Sunday routine that we fill out and follow?

Easter each year turns on the spigot of baptismal water to welcome new Christians into the communion of faith and to renew the already baptized in their faith. Do we allow the waters to wash over us again? We need to drink more deeply of the mystery of dying and rising in Christ. There are many deaths in the course of living, more than just the loss of physical life. A divorce, a retirement, a serious illness, the children leaving home, an economic downturn in the community are all deaths of parts of our lives. How do we rise from them to new life? That is the call of Christ to the baptized.; You aren't allowed to remain dead, to wallow in your grief and self-pity, or to pretend that nothing happened. Your Lord died and rose, and the only way to be faithful to the Lord Jesus is to follow the same path. And we do not walk alone. The mystery only comes together as we come together as the Body of Christ, refreshed and renewed in His Spirit.

Baxter wouldn't think of drinking stale and stagnant water. He knows better. Such pools only breed sickness and disease. We should take heed of this thought when it comes to our faith life. Stir the waters to keep them fresh. Splash about in the baptismal pool to see what needs watered. Get a little wet to understand how to take in the faith in different circumstances of our lives. We never outgrow our need for the waters of baptism to stay healthy in Christ's life.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Open Doors

Baxter does not like a closed door. If there is one in the house, he tolerates it only for a while. Soon he begins pawing at it and crying to have it opened. He wants to know what’s behind the barrier. When I open the door, he either darts into the open space in triumph, or else he cautiously proceeds to investigate the unknown territory. He sniffs, gingerly steps forward, sniffs further, and then he takes the plunge into the unexplored areas of the new space. Cats are very territorial, and they want to know what’s in their space.

The Risen Lord is the same way. He does not like closed tombs or locked doors. No matter how large was the stone sealing it, He broke open the tomb where they laid Him after His death. In John’s Gospel, it was despite the locked doors that the Risen Lord appeared to His disciples. He wasn’t going to be kept out.

Resurrection wants to penetrate the hidden and closed areas of our lives with a renewing grace. Where have we closed out God to keep our minds and hearts safe? Holding a grudge, being stuck in grief, keeping a stubborn disagreement going by refusing to hear the other side, wanting it my way no matter what, licking old or new wounds, these are all closed doors to new life. The key to opening these doors is given by the Risen Lord when He first says, “Peace be with you,” when He shows them His wounded hands and His side, and when He adds, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

We can’t close out others peacefully. It takes energy and effort to exclude people from our lives. Peace comes when we begin to see the wounds we all bear from living. This vision allows us to share a common bond of frail humanity in the face of harsh reality. This is what the glorious wounds of the risen body of Jesus remind us. We have all been hurt in life, and we bear the marks of these painful experiences in our lives. But these wounds can become lessons in the meaning and purpose of life, if we find the peace to carry them gracefully. Forgiveness is the key to such peace, but forgiveness is not an act of our will. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit as the Risen Lord presents it. We must pray for this gift and accept it when it is given. In the meantime, we have to open the doors to make it possible for the Spirit to come into our lives when He will.

Apostles and evangelizers cannot live behind closed doors. There we can only talk to ourselves and serve ourselves. If a new evangelization is to dawn in the church and the world, we have to open the way for others to enter our lives. We have to listen, understand, discuss, respect each other even when we disagree, and keep talking with each other about important matters that shape who we are and how we treat each other. We don’t spread the good news of God’s salvation in Christ with a club, but as the Risen Lord did, with an invitation to share new life in the Spirit.

Baxter wants to know what’s behind the closed door. God wants to know as well, so that He can breathe into the space new life through His Spirit. Won’t you help God explore new places in your life? His peace is even better than a friendly, soothing purr.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Light and Warmth

Baxter loves the sun. He gets excited on sunny days and loves to spend time looking out the window, sometimes at nothing from my point of view, but he is mesmerized. He also loves to lie in the sun. I do not think that he gets a tan. At least, I never noticed one, but he loves to feel the warm rays on his back, tummy, nose and paws. He makes the effort to change his position from time to time to be sure that all parts are exposed before a sunning session is done. Feeling warm all over is reassuring to this usually skittish critter.

Baxter has mastered the art of lingering in the sunlight for vision and warmth. Not a bad lesson for us to learn. However, instead of sunlight, we need to linger in the light of Christ. The Church gives us fifty whole days in the Easter season to ponder the wonders of this light. We need to learn to relish the whole season and delay the temptation often posed by our worldly conditioning to “get on with it.”

There are so many facets to the mystery of Christ’s resurrection that one day in that light will never exhaust its meaning for us. Like a well-cut diamond, we need to turn ourselves in many directions to see all the color and angles of insight resurrection can bring to our life. The Risen Lord appeared in many guises in the scriptural accounts, and He was often not recognized for Himself at first. A ghost, a gardener, a cook on the beach, a fellow traveler on the road were all descriptions of the Lord Jesus before the disciples’ eyes were opened to see something more in the person they met. They listened to His words and heard the Word of God for them. They looked more closely and saw the wounds on His hands, the broken bread of the Eucharist, and the gift of the Spirit bringing peace and forgiveness. If we take time to notice, it is amazing what wonders appear in what we thought were just common-place encounters.

With Christ’s light comes also the warmth of God’s love, a love that transforms this sometimes cold and harsh world by what it moves us to do and say. An encouraging word to the discouraged, a thoughtful gesture to the forgotten, a gift to those in need, a job for someone down and out, a visit to the sick, a moment for the lonely, all these bring warmth to two persons’ lives, the giver and the gifted. Resurrection moves us to share what we have and who we are with others who may have less and so think less of themselves. This warm light doesn’t change the pigment in our skin. It changes the way we color each other. No longer are we problems for each other, competitors for limited resources or strangers with sinister intentions. We become brothers and sisters in one Lord, and a different kind of global warming increases with a new sign of God’s love.

Baxter takes it slowly on a sunny day to bask in the light and warmth. He’s a pro at easy living. Let Christ make your life easier by lingering in His light. Soak in the warmth of God’s love. Take your time through the Easter season. You might be surprised by what you see and experience — a world made new, one encounter at a time.