Weekly Musings

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Openness and Attentiveness

A few weeks ago someone contacted me to arrange a time to meet with them. I suggested that we meet via Zoom. They thought this would be great and we agreed on a time and a date. They said they would send a link to the Zoom meeting. Now, since the pandemic began, I have somewhat reluctantly become very familiar with Zoom, so I automatically set up a Zoom meeting on my own. When the time for our meeting came, I dutifully started the Zoom meeting I had set up. After about 10 minutes, I received an email from the person informing me that they were at the meeting waiting for me. I immediately remembered they had said they would set up the meeting, and so I joined them at the Zoom meeting they had set up. I apologized for my tardiness and explained that I had mistakenly set up my own Zoom meeting and had been waiting for them. Fortunately they were able to see the humor in my gaffe and we had a good laugh over it. 

As I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me it was a good analogy for what sometimes happens in my prayer life. More times than I care to admit when I go to prayer, I am in one place waiting for God, and God is in another place waiting for me. Most often we eventually sync up, but other times we are like ships passing in the night. 

Of course, while I’d like God to shoulder some of the responsibility for the above, the reality is that it is entirely my fault. God does not operate on my schedule and God definitely isn’t at my beck and call. Having acknowledged this, however, it is also very important to note that God is always present and available to us, but it is on God’s terms, not ours. 

Given the above, the obvious question is: how do we become aware of God’s presence and availability to us? I believe the answer is found in two words: Openness and Attentiveness. God is always and everywhere present. We need to be open to that presence, whenever and however it occurs in our lives. One of the ways we can do this is by putting aside our expectations of how and where God should be present, and simply be open to the many and surprising ways God comes into our lives. Attentiveness helps us do that. Attentiveness is nothing more, but also nothing less, than simply putting aside our agenda, our preconceived ideas, and our sense of how things should be, and just resting and trusting in God’s presence, and opening ourselves to God’s grace.

Being open to God’s presence and availability is not easy. It requires patience and practice. And sometimes we end up in one place waiting for God and God is somewhere else waiting for us. When we get it right, though, we will find peace and hope in the tender embrace of our God’s love. 

 

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Solemnity of All Saints

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In 1925 Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) established the feast of Christ the King in response to growing nationalism and secularism in Europe after WWI. With this new feast, Pope Pius XI desired to return Catholics to Christ and to unite all people in Christ, the supreme ruler whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries.

Originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, Pope Paul VI moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and raised it to the level of a Solemnity. In addition to its celebratory character, the placement on this Solemnity at the end of the liturgical year also gives it an apocalyptic and sobering character. 

The readings for the day speak about God’s mercy but also of God’s justice. The first reading from Ezekiel presents God as the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep but who also judges between the rams and the goats. Matthew 25 offers a vision of the end of times when Christ, the Judge, will separate those who saw him hungry and fed him, thirsty and clothed him, a stranger and welcomed him, naked and clothed him, in prison and visited him from those who did not.

The notion of Jesus as King is not new. This is as old as Christianity itself and as profound as the mystery of our faith. Throughout Scripture many royal titles are given to Jesus. First and most frequent is the title of Christ or Anointed One, the Savior of Israel. Second, is the title Kyrios or Lord which came to be interpreted as Jesus being the Lord of the Universe. Third is that of King as e.g. in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy where Jesus is referred to as “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).

When we hear these titles we are quick to impose our earthly understanding onto them and to be sure, that is where they originated. However, Jesus is in no way like earthly kings or earthly rulers. When questioned by Pilate Jesus responds that his “kingdom is not of this earth”. Surely, had he been an earthly king, his armies would have defended him and prevented his arrest. Rather, Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword so he may be arrested to fulfill the prophecies.

We hail Jesus as the Anointed One not because he commands mighty armies, wields earthly powers, or displays great wealth. Rather, because he is the Good Shepherd and Suffering Servant who eats and drinks with sinners; who feeds the hungry; who heels the sick; who brings the dead back to life; and who accepted suffering and death so we might live. In sum, we profess him as anointed because he is the perfect image and embodiment of God’s boundless love and endless mercy.

On the Solemnity of Christ the King we honor Christ as the Ruler of the Universe and as the Savior of the World. As King he will judge us at the end of time and he will separate the goats from the sheep. As Savior he will do this with justice and love. Thankfully, as our Savior he has also given us a roadmap to ensure that we end up with the sheep by recognizing and serving Christ in everyone, especially in those who are most in need.

In these times of rising nationalism and rampant secularism worldwide, let us celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King with great fervor and let us meditate on the true Ruler of the Universe whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries and whose desire is for all us to be one in Him.

We have a beautiful stained glass window of Christ the King in our sacristy. It was created by Gaytee Glass Studios in 1928, just three years after the proclamation of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

In this window we see Christ seated on a royal throne. He is wearing the regalia typical for an earthly king: he has a crown on his head, a scepter in his right hand and the Globus Cruciger or the orb crowned with a cross in his left hand.

The globe with the cross is of particular interest. The image of a ruler holding an orb suggests that the ruler holds the world in his hand. Christian rulers had a cross added to the orb indicating that they were governing the world for God. Placing the globus cruciger in Christ’s hands affirms that Christ is the Ruler of the Universe but also the Salvator Mundi or Savior of the World.

 

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Solemnity of All Saints

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Trust God and Listen

I knew it would be a hard election. I didn’t allow myself to believe it would be this hard. As Christians, we have a fundamental call to see each other as sacred children of God. And that recognition beckons us toward action marked by the work of reconciliation and healing. 

Scripture continually centers us: The great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, The story of the Good Samaritan, The image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, The final judgement in Matthew 25. Over and over, we are challenged to embrace God’s love in our own heart and to share that love with others. Even more profound, there is a primary call to share that love with those we see as most undeserving. 

So, looking in the mirror, I am forced to ask myself: Am I seeing the other side of the election battle with love? How am I engaging others to foster reconciliation and healing?  Do I avoid joining the partisan battles and engage in a positive way?

It’s hard.

On November 4th, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reflected on our election, “Whatever the outcome is going to be, we remain a deeply divided, polarized nation, more than at any time in our recent history.” Reaching out and working toward healing and reconciliation will not happen without intention and hard work. It will not happen without surrendering our own sense of superiority. It will not happen without being willing to see the glimmer of truth and gift in the other side. 

There is a concept central to BeFriender Ministry called Mutuality. Mutuality is the respectful give and take between and among two or more persons. It requires intentional willingness to engage. It requires a wise understanding that people make sense of the world through a complicated mixture of past experiences—interpreting life through the lens they have lived. While neither right nor wrong, it is their interpretation. It requires a willingness to hold oneself open to another—letting go of one’s own judgements or agendas. Mutuality can exist on two levels—both valid, sacred ways of connecting. 

Level One Mutuality calls us to actively listen to the story of another. With respect and dignity, “we listen not to judge, probe, evaluate, or advise but rather to hear and understand from that person’s perspective.” This takes work. It requires commitment to surrender the desire for rebuttals. It requires remembering the sacredness of the other. It opens us up for possible transformation. In the wisdom of BeFriender Ministry, this Level One Mutuality is to be 90% of our communication. Ninety percent of our time is actively listening, staying willing to engage.

Level Two Mutuality, only 10% of this sacred communication, is experienced when trust is built through non-judgmental listening of Level One. It is in this moment that we respectfully offer our perspective. The reality: you may stay at Level One and never enter Level Two—and that can be enough. 

Can we listen to understand? Trusting that God is present, actively listening in a non-judgmental way, makes room for the miracles of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, our God is active among the division and brokenness. We are all called to trust God and listen. 

 

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