The First Sunday in Advent November 29, 2020
Br Phil began the liturgy with “Happy New Year” and the lighting of the first candle of the Advent wreath. Prophetically, we begin this season with Jesus’ words as revealed in Mark’s gospel (13:33-37), “Be watchful”. Br Phil wondered if we could also hear the words as “watch out!” They are words meant to encourage wakefulness, not fear. This year has been challenging in so many ways, spiritually, financially, emotionally, socially. Perhaps we can say “good riddance to 2020”. Yet Christ is still very powerfully present in our midst if we watch and wait.
The readings from the last few weeks have been reminders to be attentive. The foolish young women ill prepared in waiting for the bridegroom, the stewards making different choices in using their master’s wealth, the last judgement where there will be a separation of sheep and goats, all point to the importance of listening for the voice of God in our lives.
Isaiah (63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7) echoes the lament of the Israelites as they leave their Babylonian captivity. “Why do you let us wander O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” Br Phil noted that the Israelites did not abruptly turn from their covenant with God, but “drifted”. We can identify with that he remarked. “We got out of the habit” is the answer many have given for missing Sunday worship. “I didn’t feel like it. I wanted to see the football game. I was tired and overslept”. Jokingly he added, “and God did not strike them down!”
Using the analogy of a ship sailing the ocean with a rudder that drifts off course, we can eventually find ourselves “going in the wrong direction”. It is so easy. We don’t feel angry or reject God, but drift from our attentiveness to God’s love and grace. Then unconsciously, we don’t need God anymore. This is what happened to Israel, and it happens to us.
Our drift can cause us to make demands of God to prove God’s power. We have become a rational society that demands proof. Furthermore, we have domesticated Jesus. He is the good shepherd who cares for his sheep. We reject the powerful Jesus who overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. Yet we need to be challenged. We need to hear “be watchful”. Jesus challenges us to be our best selves. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthian 1:3-9, we “are not lacking in any spiritual gift”. We have innate dignity, created in the Divine Image. We are the clay in the potter’s hand. How we accept and respond to that creative gift from God is our responsibility. This dignity we bear is the light of Christ as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ. May we soak up this Light of Christ; may we see our dignity, and may we move closer to Christ each day as he moves closer to us. May we remember to be watchful. We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ coming, but we do know he will come again. Peace, Anne
Reflections: Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 20, 2020
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord”. If we would contemplate that statement every day it would help guide us in our prayer and actions. Brother Akolla began his homily focusing on how we live in a merit based society. We work to achieve success and monetary reward; we study to achieve good grades which we believe lead to career success etc. We believe in “quid pro quo”, what for what; I should receive a benefit for my effort.
Emphatically Br Akolla stated “God doesn’t work that way”. God is generous beyond our understanding and gives us what we don’t merit. Depending on whom you identify with in the gospel reading, the
workers who toiled all day, or those hired toward the end of the day, we experience God’s generosity very differently. We only see the griping of the full day laborers, who expected to be paid more than the other workers. (Mt 20:1-16a). The landowner, replies “are you envious because I am generous?”
God’s justice is not based on merit, but on mercy, God’s faithful loving kindness. So as God is patient and kind to us, we are asked to be patient with others. We are all aware of our failings, of our countless goals to “do better” and repeated slips. Br Akolla reminds us to take comfort, “God says, ‘I am not finished with you yet,’”
Our response to God patient kindness is to model it with others after receiving it wholeheartedly within us. We are invited to kingdom living by remembering we are all created in the image and likeness of God and therefore worthy of respect from each other as equals. Br Akolla reminded us again to be people of action. In the gospel, the landowner hires more workers from the marketplace, asking them “Why do you stand here idle all day?”
The question Br Akolla put to us is is “What are you doing lately to build the kingdom?” . How have we “built up” our brothers and sisters. What have we done for the “least of them”. How are we praying and serving the sick, the unemployed, the forgotten, and marginalized. He reminded us we cannot be “on the sidelines concerning racism”.
Finally, he invited us to notice that a grateful heart “keeps us from envy”. Envy separates us from God and our neighbor. It blinds us to the goodness of our lives and all the gifts we have received.
May we remember the goodness of God, the wonder of God’s creation, each of us and our sisters and brothers throughout the world. May we go forward in our lives with grateful hearts and treating each other with respect and loving kindness.
Peace, Anne Butts
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time—September 13,2020
Since I did not write an entry for last week, I will include some of Brother Marva’s reflections here also. He presided at the liturgy last week and today. Outside, the cool breeze sometimes mirrored his statements about us not being in control. We had to stake down the tents before his homily because
the “Spirit” in the form of a strong wind threatened to topple his covering.
He reminded us that last week’s gospel was the roadmap for forgiveness, encouraging us to address our grievances directly, one on one, with the person involved instead of speaking about them to others as a first recourse. Today’s gospel focused on the frequency of our forgiveness. In the gospel, after hearing the importance of forgiving our neighbor, Peter is asking “Do I really have to keep forgiving for as long as I have to?” Jesus’ “No” is really a “Yes”. Brother Marva emphasized that Jesus reminded Peter to “do more” forgiving—“seventy-seven times”, a never ending process.
Last Sunday Brother Marva caught our attention with Tina Turner’s hit song “What’s love got to do with it” remarking that Paul’s letter to the Romans might have a title “love’s got everything to do with it”. It is stressed again in the readings today. Sirach calls us to “Remember your last days, set enmity aside” in order to receive God’s mercy by granting it to others in the form of forgiveness. Holding grudges and fueling our anger with resentment controls us after a while and destroys the bonds of love. How many of us have witnessed peaceful deaths after moments of reconciliation. Just as the gospel’s indebted servant was forgiven by his master, we can remember the unconditional love and perpetual forgiveness of God. Then, unlike the servant, we are charged with passing on this loving forgiveness to others.
As Brother Marva mentioned last Sunday and today, forgiveness is hard. Often, we cannot believe God could forgive us, either through the sacrament of Reconciliation or in our private prayer. He said, “we are asked to let go of our ‘stuff’ so we can release the burden in others”. For as St Paul wrote in Romans, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s”. We think we are in control, but we are not. We are invited to examine our behavior and relationships and do the hard work of asking and granting forgiveness. We ask it of God, ourselves and each other. We commit to moving forward each new day, leaving behind our old habits so we don’t fall back to old behaviors. The hope of today’s message is “no matter how hard or difficult our lives feel, no matter how we fail, God forgives and loves us over and over”. Can we live fruitfully to do the same?
Peace, Anne Butts