Reflection - January 19, 2020

“It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant,

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the survivors of Israel;

I will make you a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

 

Ancient population numbers are difficult to estimate. Records from the time are notoriously unreliable and greatly overestimate the numbers, while modern estimates are far removed from the reality of the time and can tend to underestimate the numbers. It seems that great academic debates occur regarding these varied estimates. In any case, with almost no sense of accuracy, it may be said that Israel was a small kingdom, but not altogether insignificant. In Jesus’s day, it may have been as large as 0.5% of the world population and close to 3% of the population of the Roman Empire. Again, not very large, but also not totally insignificant. The Jewish population outside of Israel was probably as large as the population within or as much as double. So, a decidedly geographic religion, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center, could have accounted for 1% to 1.5% of the world population and 6% to 9% of the Roman Empire. Small, but not insignificant. 

 

Today, adherents of Judaism represent roughly 0.2% of the world population. Christianity has grown from its inception out of the Jewish tradition to about 31% of the world population with Catholicism representing nearly 17%. The vast majority of nations, languages, and people groups have at least some adherents to Christianity, and many to Catholicism. Although, as I have mentioned previously, we are facing a great challenge in the United States from the reality of those who are choosing to leave the church (the growth of the “unaffiliated”), the Church continues to grow, especially in Africa and Asia. Beginning in Jerusalem, the Church has spread to the ends of the earth. 

 

Numbers are, of course, numbers. What they represent are human hearts open to the message of God’s love and responsive to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God had big plans for a small, though not totally insignificant, people. He wasn’t just concerned with a few tribes or a small nation, but with the whole world. He planted a seed that began to grow. A constricted horizon based on national self interest gave way to an infinite horizon encompassing every human heart. For a small people, it was a big vision. It is the same dynamic, however, within each of our own lives. God constantly expands our horizons. From my own personal well being, to that of my family, to those in my community, to the needy and hurting, to the far flung seeking and searching, God moves us out of ourselves. Every person is significant to God. Every person becomes significant to us. God’s vision for us, here and now, is not small. It encompasses everything.  

 

The kingdom always starts small and grows, like a mustard seed. It starts in our own hearts and minds. Is our understanding of God too small? Is our view of our own potential too small? Are the possibilities of what we can accomplish as a community too small? Is my heart too small? Is our vision too small? God has planted something in us that will grow. Are we ready for something large? For everything? For God? David Crowder, a Christian musician, has some lyrics that get at this idea:

 

“I'm so bored of little gods

While standing on the edge of something large

While standing here, so close to You

We could be consumed”

Reflection - January 12, 2020

“Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying, 
‘l need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’”

There is a recognition by John that Jesus does not need to be baptized. John’s baptism, a ritual cleansing with water signifying repentance for the forgiveness of sins, was not a necessity for Jesus. Jesus was sinless. So, if he didn’t need to do it, why did he? First, and this is an essential point, Jesus didn’t need to do any of the things he did. He didn’t need to be incarnate, do miracles, teach, suffer, or die. Jesus chose to do all of these things. Out of love, he did them for us. It wasn’t a need. It wasn’t for himself. It was love. It was for us. Jesus wasn’t baptized because he needed it, he was baptized because we needed it. The short answer is that Jesus was plunged in the waters of the Jordan for us. This is expressed poetically by the Eastern fathers of the Church, “I am trying to find the lost Adam, let me go down and look for him.”

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Reflection - December 8, 2019

“It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

I have visited a prayer and fasting retreat center in Colorado a number of times. At 9,000 feet, it is 110 acres of mostly mountain fields, rock formations, aspen and pine stands, and amazing blue skies. It is beautiful, and I have had some of my most profound experiences of God there. On my last visit several years ago, I noticed, significantly, that a neighboring property had essentially turned into a junk yard. Old machinery, supplies, materials and trash were piled up around the property, easily visible from the retreat center. I think I made the observation in small talk to the woman who ran the retreat center that it would be nice if the neighbor would clean up his property.  Her reply surprised me, “In Colorado, we have strong property owner rights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” There is a tension, sometimes, between individual rights and the common good, or put a different way, between the personal and the communal. 

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Reflection - November 17, 2019

“We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. 
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly 
and to eat their own food.”

We want to be in the know. It makes us feel connected, important, and able to make a difference. Sometimes, we believe we have a right to know. We may feel that our own interest in a situation or circumstance gives us the right to have the private information of others for our own. We have experienced the betrayal of trust that makes us unwilling to accept the words of those in authority as the final word and demand proof of right decisions or actions. Transparency is important to building trust and establishing a joint vision and mission. Secrecy, being kept in the dark, or evasiveness raise serious doubts in our minds and decrease our willingness to engage. 

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Reflection - December 29, 2019

Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I think it’s time to get serious. The weeks leading up to entering basic training at the Air Force Academy were glorious. Like a hero going on an adventure, there were congratulations, meaningful conversations, celebrations with family and friends, sad goodbyes, practical preparations, and my entourage standing at the gate of the airport (back when that was still possible) to wish me well. Arriving at Dad’s house in Colorado Springs, there was an air of anticipation and a feast the night before to rival the end of the world. An amazing new chapter was about to begin! Dad pulled up to a stop sign in the cadet area, I got out with my bag of personal effects, and everything changed. Everything. An upperclass cadet started yelling, I ran to a spot on the ground, learned, immediately, how to stand at attention, and spent the day getting a new hair cut, new clothes, shots, equipment, and either running from place to place or waiting in long lines. What had I gotten into? The glory was gone. It was time to get serious. 

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Reflection - December 1, 2019

“Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”

She really turned it around. He came to his senses. They are on fire. Did you see that comeback? Rally time! Rally hats! Let’s shift gears. He’s got it all together. She pulled through. Time to upgrade. Take it to the next level. He’s beginning to believe. There is no spoon. Disrupt the industry. Charge! High speed, low drag. Pivot. Using cutting edge technology. Ideas worth spreading. New and improved. This just in. First rate, top notch, beyond compare, and second to none. What a transformation! This will revolutionize the way we live our lives. She had a change of heart. He saw the light. They charted a new course. That’s progress. It’s a breakthrough. Eureka! They’ve made great strides. It is a quantum leap. Advancing by leaps and bounds. Get up, everybody!  I’m on the look out. She’s hooked. He’s ahead of his time. We’ve got spirit, yes, we do! Plugged in, turned on, and ready to roll. You’ve got my attention. Brilliant!

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Reflection - November 10, 2019

“‘...for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise. 
...for to him all are alive.’”

I picked up doodling from my grandma. Throughout my academic career and even to certain meetings this day, I may create a page of images, squiggles, repeating patterns or random connections. As a child, I started drawing in earnest with comic characters and can still manage a respectable Garfield. In high school classes, college courses, and even two electives in seminary, I learned additional drawing and painting skills. The process of creating a piece of art can be an act of co-creation with God and I often experience it as prayer. The beauty of a masterpiece can pierce my heart and even the ugly or unusual can challenge my perspective and provide new insights or a path to strong human emotions. When I travel, I often visit art museums and while I pass by most of the works without affect, I am always in desperate search for the few that shake me open to the mystery of humanity, creation, or God. 

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Reflection - December 15, 2019

“Go and tell John what you hear and see.”

I recently hosted a group of parishioners at the St. Patrick rectory. It was a diverse group with long time and new parishioners, empty nesters and families with young children, a variety of ages, experiences, and states in life. During introductions, we shared one word we felt described St. Patrick: community, family, home, memories, welcoming, and dynamic. I’m sure we would come up with similar words at St. Boniface: the group may be a little more diverse, the memories a little longer, and we might highlight tradition and history a little more, but in both parishes, we are able to voice what the parishes mean to us. Neither parish would exist without the work of God in the hearts and lives of our members. The meaning we share is the fruit of the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

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Reflection - November 24, 2019

“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
‘Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.’
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
‘Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.’
Then he said,
‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
He replied to him,
‘Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.’”

Three men hanging high on crosses to be easily seen and mocked by the crowd. One, innocent, identified as the King of the Jews, surrendered to the will of God, hangs there with arms outstretched in love to embrace the whole world. Two thieves, guilty, justly condemned, hang serving the punishment for their crimes. All three meant to be an example and a spectacle. None are coming down alive. All, even the crowd, are in a desperate situation, under the rule of a foreign and merciless power. Mocking the men hanging on crosses is a sign of loyalty, join in or be suspect, “We have no king but Caesar.” The day drags on, the suffering grows, and the one speaks, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do...Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise...Woman, behold, your son...Behold, your mother...My God, my God, why have you forsaken me...I thirst...It is finished...Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Pierced hands and feet, broken legs for the thieves, a crown of thorns and a lance thrust into his side for the king. Love and mercy flow. They die. 

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