Friday, March 25, 2016

Humble God

Yesterday while watching our parish priest kneel and kneel again on the hard sanctuary steps to wash the feet of twelve people who volunteer in our parish, I was struck by the outrageous fact that God Himself washed the dirty feet of rough and humble men.

In the Gospel it tells us that Jesus removed his outer garment, wrapped a towel about his waist, and washed the disciples' feet. Of course, Peter didn't want his Messiah to wash his feet:

"Master, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."

After he had performed this act of service for the apostles, Jesus said:

"Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet."

And there I encounter in my Savior's words again a crazy truth about this God-man that we Christians love so madly. Sometimes more than God's majesty and power, I am astounded by His humility. Born in a stable where animals lived and ate, raised as a carpenter's son, lived as an itinerant preacher in the last few years before his Crucifixion, followed by fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Humble. He even chooses to describe Himself so:

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light." Matthew 11:28-30

And he tells us that we must be so:

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven, Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4

"You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:25-28

The Son of Man, the firstborn among many brethren through whom we become the adopted sons and daughters of God, came not to be served but to serve.

Holy Thursday Mass reminds us of that every year as we watch our priests wash feet and then we participate in the Eucharistic prayer from the Last Supper - that Christ came to serve and be our perfect paschal sacrifice, so that death would pass over us. 

This is the Son of God who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey's back. At the Last Supper he took the wine and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you." (Luke 22:20) When he had endured torture, a crown of thorns was shoved upon his head, and soldiers spat on, hit and mocked him, Jesus said nothing. 

That is unbelievable humility. 

We must try to be like him. As our parish deacon reflected in his Holy Thursday homily, we must remove our outer garments of privilege, pride, selfishness and fear, and put on the apron of service for those who need us to be Christ to them.  

As St. Paul said:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness,
and found human in appearance, 
he humbled himself
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
(Phillipians 2:5-8)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Power made perfect in weakness

My response to God often entails weeping. I weep sometimes in my awareness of His Presence. I weep in gratitude. I weep sometimes because I feel I have offended Him. I weep for joy.

I guess I have never really been the dance about and laugh girl in God's Presence. Of course, I feel joyful and smile when I glimpse Him in a sunset, hear Him in the words of a neighbor, or gaze into my children's faces, amazed at what He has done for me in making me their mother, what He has created and given me a part in.

But I cry more easily. I sob when I hear stories of conversion. The tears roll quietly down my cheeks during hymns at Mass. I start to cry while telling others of guidance He gave to me quickly after I requested it, or how He turned an uncontrollably bad situation or my own big mistake into something good - that never ceases to amaze me.

This past Saturday was a terrible day. It didn't start out that way - which made it all the more surprising when an old vexation came back to haunt me, and I ended the day resentful, hurt and confused - feeling for all the world as if I had been set up by the promise of clear, hopeful skies only to be greeted with another thunderstorm. (The thunderstorm was really quite a small episode, but it discombobulated me anyway.)

I was chagrined that my Saturday ended poorly, because on Sunday I had Children's Liturgy to lead. It has begun to seem inevitable that when I need to be in a proper emotional and spiritual state for the kids that I - usually - engage in some kind of strife in the days preceding.

But Sunday morning dawned, and I felt partly refreshed and subdued. When I got to Mass I said a version of the prayer I say every week before Children's Liturgy.

Father, you know I'm here to serve you, that I want to serve you. Forgive me my sins. And bless me, so that I may serve your little ones by serving you and that through your blessing I may glorify your name and do your will. In Jesus' name, Amen

And so it was that though my Saturday had been filled with strife I largely created because of my sensitivity, I stood at the ambo in the side chapel and read to the children the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son. I was so immersed in the parable, that when I got to the part, "So the young man started home...", I got choked up very suddenly.

I paused and tried to collect myself.

What should I do? It was obvious that I wasn't going to get through it without many tears. Should I ask my oldest daughter Ana to take over? Should I call for my husband, Matthew, who looked concerned, to step in? The children were looking at me in surprise but with great attention. Both actions would seem to make the situation more awkward, and I might then break down completely, so I continued to choke out the words:

But while he was still a long way off,
hie father saw him coming and ran out to meet him.
He took his son into his arms and kissed him.
The young man said,
"Father, I have sinned against God and against you. 
I am no longer good enough to be called your son." *

After making it through the emotion of those lines, I was given a reprieve; I regained some of my composure as Jesus tells us of the father's loving, merciful and joyous reaction to his errant son's return.

There are times when I feel that God wants me to allow others to see my weaknesses and my struggles, so that He can thereby reach others. I think He wanted the children to see me sob during such a story of forgiveness.

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast more gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me." 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (NAB)

God's power was present this last Sunday at Children's Liturgy. Jesus took my hand and turned the day around. None of my usual obstacles confronted me. I didn't struggle with a consistent theme. I didn't get lost in the bushes. There wasn't abundant unnecessary repetition. The children were uncommonly helpful, calm, and attentive and very insightful.

It was probably the best Children's Church I have ever led.

And so it was that I came away astounded at God's power being made perfect in weakness this last Sunday. After such a Saturday could derail my best intentions, such a glorious Sunday dawned all the brighter still.

*Translation from Children's Liturgy preparation materials

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What I mean when I say "women's rights"

I told a gentleman recently that I feel very strongly about women's rights.

He responded that women's rights here in America are different from other places in the world.

He was absolutely right, and that was in large part what I meant. I referenced places like the Middle East, Central America and even India.

But I had misgivings that I did not clarify my original strong statement on "women's rights". It occurred to me that in the western world, that so often means supporting abortion and contraceptive rights. It also sometimes means one is a feminist.

I am not a feminist. I believe very definitely in the equality of the sexes, in their complementary characteristics, but I do not believe women should want to be like men. 

Abortion I find to be an unequivocal evil. I am not dim-sighted. I know there are myriad reasons in our culture why women choose or are pressured into such a terrible decision, but it does not change the basic nature of the procedure - to destroy life. Nevertheless, I thank God for groups like Tears Speak, but Spirits Soar in which women who have experienced the soul-deadening aftermath of abortion can find solace and support from fellow women who know just what they have gone through and why they did it.

Contraceptive rights are very complicated, but though I can understand the impulse to rely blindly on them, I firmly believe our reliance on artificial methods of family planning do far more harm than good for society and for women particularly. My church says they are in fact wrong, and I must agree.

So what do I mean when I speak so fervently about women's rights?

Primarily, I mean the right for women in every nation to decide their own destiny. I mean the right for a young girl to choose not to be married to an older man at far too young of an age. I mean the right for women to be freely involved in society - in its governmental bodies and business and every place in it that they can attain by exercising their intellect, will, and acumen. I mean the absolute right of women to equal education and opportunity. I mean the right of women not to be treated as property or as sexual objects. I mean, most devoutly, the right of women and girls not to be molested or raped by their classmates at college, their superiors in the military, occupying troops or any male - ever.

If a woman wants to be a mother above all else, staying home and dedicating all her knowledge and heart to her family, may God bless her endeavors. If a woman wants to charge the corporate ladder or start her own business and gradually outrank the competition, may God bless her efforts. If a woman wants to never marry and dedicate her life to the poor, the physically or mentally challenged, or to the cause of rescuing other women from hell, may God guide her.

Women's rights are about basic human rights: the right to life, liberty, and the beautiful and challenging pursuit of happiness. 

We deserve and should always demand love, respect and opportunity.