Archives: July 2014

Thanks be to God!

During these summer months many people are fortunate to have some vacation time. Some of us will enjoy a couple of weeks at home, catching up on much needed domestic tasks. Others will spend time at a cabin by a lake or in the woods reveling in the pleasures of country living. Still others will travel around Minnesota or maybe venture into other states. And for some, this is the year to fly east or west, north or south in search of some relaxation and some rejuvenation in other countries.

I have very fond memories of our family vacations in Belgium. Most of the time we simply went to the cabin where we spent entire summers. Sometimes we ventured into neighboring countries such as The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg or France. These daytrips were never a simple matter. First, there were seven of us and there was an age difference among the children of 8 years. Second, we all had different interests ranging from shopping, to hiking, to art. Third, I was a persistent kid who insisted on entering every church we passed and including at least one museum per visit. And I (almost) always got my way to the dismay of my siblings.

One year we went on a week-long excursion to Burgundy in France. One of my father’s uncles, a Franciscan had been a pastor in a small Burgundian town and we wanted to see where he had lived and where he was buried. Thankfully his little church was still in good shape and his tomb was very well cared for. We even found a painting signed J. van Parys on the High Altar in the church.

Although this was all quite wonderful, for me, the high point of the trip was our visit to the abbey of Fontenay which happened despite some great protestations by my siblings. Founded in 1180 as a daughter house of the Cistercian abbey of Clervaux Fontenay is set in the rolling hills of the Burgundian landscape. In its 800+ years of history the abbey and its monastic community knew waves of success and downfall. At the end of the 18th century as a consequence of the French Revolution the monks were dispersed and the abbey was turned into a paper mill. In 1906 new owners began the restoration of the abbey and opened it to the public.

As soon as I walked through the doors of the majestic abbey church, stripped of all its liturgical and devotional accoutrements, I could almost hear the monks chant the office and I could very nearly smell burning candles and wafting incense. My siblings thought me in a trance. How could I not be? This building which had harbored monastic prayer for nearly a thousand years still bore witness to the sounds, the sights and smells of the prayers offered beneath its sheltering roof and under its reaching arches.

I walked away from that place with a sense of awe for the persistent presence of prayer. Even though this building had not been used as an active abbey for a couple of centuries, it still was able to tell the story of our faith and inspire the thousands of tourists wandering through it. The only thing I could say was “Thanks be to God.”

May your holidays afford you similar experiences that will allow you to say: “Thanks be to God” be it in the woods, by the lake or hopefully in a church.

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071314.cfm 

This Sunday’s Gospel is the familiar parable of the sower and the seed.  We are told that a sower went out to sow and “some seed fell on the path, and birds come and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.”  But when the sun came out “it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.”  Some “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”   “But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”    

To understand this parable, it is helpful to know three things.  First, parables were short stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.  They were not meant to be taken literally.  Second, the impact of a parable occurs when our sense of what is proper/right is upended.  Third, it is helpful to know is that for the kind of sowing process described in this parable a harvest of 6% – 9% would be the best you could hope for.   Thus a harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold would be absolutely extraordinary. Taken together these things remind us that the message of the Kingdom of God goes out to all people, but is received in a variety of ways.   Ultimately, though, the Kingdom of God will flourish, despite any obstacles to its growth.   

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel.  Through the Prophet Isaiah God reminds the people that “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return till they have watered the earth ………………… so shall my word be ……………… my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul is clear about his faith in God’s ultimate triumph.  “I consider the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”     

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  Why do you think Jesus used parables?
2.  Have you ever been surprised at the effect God’s word has had on you or someone else? 
3.  What do you think Paul meant when he talked about the glory to be revealed for us?  

Sin as Our Failure

One Monday morning a few weeks ago I was at my cabin catching up on the Sunday newspaper when I heard a loud “clunk” from the living room. I looked up from the paper and saw a bird fluttering around on the deck in a daze. I realized immediately that the bird must have flown into the  sliding glass door, only to have the glass bring its flight to a rather abrupt end. The bird appeared to be okay, so I went back to reading the paper. 

I hadn’t been reading the paper for more than five minutes when I heard another loud “clunk.” I looked out on the deck and saw the same bird fluttering around once more in a daze just outside the sliding glass door. I watched it for a few minutes, but since it again appeared to be okay, I went upstairs to take a shower, figuring that the bird had learned its lesson this time.

After my shower I had to run some errands and ended up being gone for a couple of hours.  When I returned to my cabin, and began unloading some groceries I had bought, I once again heard a familiar “clunk.” This time when I checked, I wasn’t surprised to see the bird fluttering around outside the sliding glass door.  What did surprise me, though, was the number of small feathers and other telltale markings that speckled the window pane. Apparently the poor bird had spent most of the morning trying to fly through the glass. I couldn’t help but think what a shame it was that it hadn’t learned a lesson from its first few failed attempts.  It occurred to me that if only it had a bigger brain or a stronger memory it might have saved itself a lot of pain and uselessly expended time and energy.

I thought about that bird a few days later, when I caught myself falling back into a bad habit I had been working to change. I couldn’t help but smile at myself as it dawned on me that in this particular case, I wasn’t really all that different from that poor bird. Like that bird, I hadn’t learned from my past mistakes. I had fallen into an old behavior pattern, which was anything but constructive and growthful.   

As I reflected on this situation it struck me that something like this probably occurs in each of our lives. There are times when we continue bad habits or patterns of behavior even though they are counter to our growth. It occurred to me that this is what sin is all about. Sin is our failure to break the destructive habits or behaviors that keep us from growing into the people God has called us to be.      

Now in some ways the above is a depressing thought.  Fortunately for us, though, unlike the bird outside my sliding glass door, we have the ability to recognize our destructive behaviors.  Additionally, though, we also have the means available to help us change those behaviors.   As Christians, we believe that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is always there for us and with us in our lives. If we are open to it, and if we allow it to work in our lives, the grace of the Lord Jesus can help us change our lives and be better people.  

Certainly it is not easy to change habits or patterns of behavior that are sinful and which have become entrenched over the years. Moreover, it may take a considerable amount of effort to do so.  However, the work involved in changing these behaviors is certainly preferable to continuing them. For the reality is that if we don’t make the effort to change, to learn from our mistakes and grow, we aren’t a whole lot better off than some poor bird who keeps bumping its head into a pane of glass.

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