REFLECTION X FOR AT HOMERS 05.22.20
Some years ago, I went to a workshop to move gracefully toward retirement
(sure how successful I have been, lol!) and the question was asked: “What do you
want to do for retirement?” Of course, all of us clergypersons wrote our
responses, ready to jump in on command and share our wisdom. But before we
could do so our Retreat Guide said, “Another question: Now that you have the
answers before you, what happens if you die before you retire—then what?”
Boom! Shut us down! Reality was staring us in the face. What if? That
hits home now since I am the only one of 6 in my class of those ordained who is
still living. The others were waiting for retirement. It never came. I wonder if
my brother priests had answered the what if and died fulfilled though not yet
retired from their ministries.
If this pandemic has placed anything before us, it is a poignant nudge for us
to remember we are far more fragile than we would like to admit. It reminds us
that truly the only thing that is eternal is God’s love. We will know (or know
already) that truth first hand as a worshipping community. Familiar gestures
and markers are no more. Gone are holy water fonts, chalice-sharing, the kiss of
peace, hugs of welcome and missals to guide us. But it is not just the Church that
is changing. Our illusions of safety and power are evaporating at a molecular
level. Unemployment at 20%--the highest since the great depression. Hoarding
is still occurring while food is more available here than in most countries on the
best of days. Sports cancelled. Education moved to the family. Institutions
around for decades are on the verge of closing forever if not already closed.
Friends, into all this we bring our faith. Not pie-in-the-sky, cheap grace
but awareness our faith doesn’t just hold up the sacredness of life but also
prepares us for the certainty of death when it comes to us. There are deaths we
are experiencing now and the final one we are reminded of every Ash
Wednesday: “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
To the deaths of the virus right now and to our passing from this life to the
next, we speak the assurance of resurrection during this Easter Season.
Resurrection does not antiseptically guard us from harm or disappointment but
speaks the truth that life is much more than our woundedness. The Risen One
did not lose his wounds but rather, his sacred scars foreshadow the final healing
of all our wounds and disease. This virus will be just one in a long list of healings
we will experience until God calls us home. Jesus did not hide his wounds but
showed them to us: “look” “touch” “believe” …not to focus us on the wounds but
on the power of resurrection to transform them. Isaiah echoes as the Suffering
Servant bore our pain and endured our suffering. By “his wounds” we are healed.
This is not the easiest answer to embrace but it is God’s answer. It is the only
answer to our “now” and the message that we, as a people of faith, urgently need
to share with each other. Be healed. Be transformed. Enjoy resurrection now!!
MIDWEEK REFLECTION 05.26.2020
A question prompted this reflection. "What do you need most?" Think back to a couple months. Answer that question. "l need the newest iPhone." "l need a better laptop." "l need some good ole comfort food." "l need one more watch, one more earring. ' "l need....' Fast forward to now. Answer again. "l need to see my Church family. I need a hug. I need hand sanitizer and masks. I need toilet paper. I need my health. need..." My what a difference two months makes. Our needs have shifted and what we valued is topsy-turvy.
The word "conversion" comes from the Greek "metanoia" to turn from one thing toward another. This turning is for the good and often benefits others. It also means to transform one's mind and heart. Conversion is going on. What was thought necessity is vastly different from authentic need. I think amid this virus we are challenged to assess our needs more realistically as our amazingly comfortable consumer habits crumble.
Scripture reminds us that all things work together for the good of those who love God. Is it possible, while not ignoring the horror of this disease, God is working for our good? As with most conversions pain is involved. Pain is the distance between what we want and what is. So, conversion comes in simple ways with profound effects. Think of praying at home and live-streaming mass. The conversion is what we once took for granted we now desire more. The "presence" of the church, the community was not an afterthought on Jesus' part. It was essential to his being with us. The building, windows, scent, sacraments--not just religious trappings but truly a part of who we are. Our conversion: a newfound love for all this.
What of the families we took for granted? We long to embrace, to visit, to BE family. What of teachers? All those complaints from parents or students about teachers and administration? Circumstances are helping us appreciate each other more and gripe less. Surely, it is an inconvenience. But there is much to learn about how we did or did not take proper responsibility for our roles. What of freedom? We could do what we wanted. The virus is teaching us we are not as in control as we thought. Some kick, scream and protest but the "new normal" limits our freedoms for the sake of the greater good of all we love.
Yes, there is a lot of conversion going on. Reflect: In what ways is conversion happening in my life? With family? With church? With worship and work? Our principal shared at our graduation people had finally stopped focusing on what they CANNOT do and embraced what they CAN do. When we let go of the old mindset, we become excited by possibilities. We have people "worshipping" with us online who never came to church. Our Bishop pointed out that this time has shown us how out of touch we were with each other in the Church. We are closer now than ever...even though we are apart. So, seek conversion. Embrace it when it comes. Look to all we CAN do and let us give up focusing on what we CANNOT do. Blessings to all.
May 22nd, 2020
REFLECTION IX FOR AT HOMERS 05.22.20
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have the not-often-had-honor of being in our beautiful space called the Church. These days of challenge and lack, I am discovering, can also be days of blessings and graces from heaven. I have to confess that even being right next door to the Church or down the street from it, I often get so caught up in the "busy-ness" of Church that I forget I am (we are) the Church. What about you?
I also am having the profound experience of just how much of our spirit as Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary are contained in these holy places of worship. They give us meaning. They architecturally express our mission and purpose. They hold those dear things that hold us: God's Word, Holy Eucharist and its flickering flame of faith, the Altar of Sacrifice, the dancing flames of people's prayers carefully guarded on either side of the Church by the ever-watchful eye of Blessed Mary and Holy Joseph. I observe pews strangely silent that break this pastor's heart! I take in the aroma of all of us combined, wafting about me like sweet perfume. It is soaked into the pews and pads and walls that are storied with our lives and renowned for the precious contents they protect: the saints of Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart.
I sat there noting the banners. They are white to denote the 50 days of celebration and unpacking of the Easter Mysteries in spite of, even in the face of, the plague that seeks the ruin all people of good will. I behold the "white" I took for granted in the vestments, decorations, cinctures and songs that lead us through the seasons that dance around Christ's life as our lives dance around the same Christ. I was sharing with one of the saints not too long ago that without your presence here at the end of Lent something precious was short-circuited. The silence of these places made me hunger to hear once again the hushed murmurs and whispers as we gathered. "How have you been?" "Oh, I am so sorry to hear that." "70-years old...awesome...Happy Birthday!" "I've been praying for you." "Let's do lunch after mass and catch up." It echoed the litany of the Church engaged in each other's lives and moving through it together. I thought of how each church had such a unique expression of those they house; the familiar we miss, the reverence we hold, the gestures we don, the customs we keep: 3 rd Sunday brunch, coffee on the grounds, "Young singers", and recitation of the rosary before Mass on the Sundays of May, dedicated to Mary.
All of this blessed me in one simple sitting. You ought to try it soon your place misses you! It was a gift of the wonderful spirit of who we are that calls out to my spirit and I would say to your spirit as well: "Oh, Church, it will be good to see you again and to be seen." You are all missed so very much. Love ya, Fr. Ken
© 2020 Fr. Ken Ramon-Landry. Hattiesburg, Mississippi. May not be reproduced without written permission.
May 19th, 2020
Midweek Reflection IV
Years ago, while preparing for ministry I learned about defense mechanisms called “masks.” Naming these masks became a point of personal growth. These masks are not like those we don these days, but special strategies to show a public persona and hide the private one. We wear the masks of the cool guy/gal, the funny one, the over achiever, the martyr, the bully and so on. However, in the short term, these masks keep us safe and from being hurt. They are our protective shield as we heal and enjoy life more.
In some way, this brief little paragraph describes our struggles with literally wearing masks in these days of Covid-19. I was lovingly confronted about my use or lack thereof of a mask. I am claustrophobic and so, while in the sanctuary I am not required to wear a mask but I am beginning to do so at communion time for the safety of all. We all struggle here, but, think, “masks” can teach spiritually.
First, having to wear a mask takes away our choice and, of course, we smitten, bitten children of Adam and Eve still have the rebellion gene. The antidote to rebellion is sacrifice. If I can separate this issue from my ego, I would now it is about love, care and being the best of humanity in the toughest of times. The mask we wear can say we trust one another to do the kind and loving thing. Thus, our actions become icons of sacrificial love.
In recent days this “rebellion” is almost outrage. As Americans, our civil liberties are in our genetic makeup. They go to the very foundation of “who” we are. When we feel threatened, we want to lash out and rip off the masks. But, Church, we have many laws that curbs behaviors for the greater good: smoking, drinking while driving, or speeding down Hwy 11. The antidote for this outrage is realizing law does not give life, love does. The masks we wear are worn to show love for each other…no more, no less. The golden rule applies. “Do unto others a you would have them do unto you” makes more a difference now than ever lest we want the now 70,000 plus deaths to be in vain. Wear a mask, save a life. Wear a mask and truly love…this is real freedom!
Some of us macho people think masks make us look weak because wearing them signals we are afraid. You damn right! Healthy fear never killed anyone but flippant disregard continues to kill. The spiritual gift to heal fear is realizing where true strength resides. Admitting our vulnerability is okay and embracing our strength to heal helplessness is the Christian way.
Wearing masks says we care. It is uncomfortable, new and unusual. It is saying good bye to a life we knew and hello to the new normal. Yes, there is grieving going on. The cure: lay that grief at the feet of Jesus and share it with those you love. Be honest with feelings. Spiritually, mask-wearing is good and so are the people who wear them. Be a good person. In fact, let’s gently encourage each other to be good…and before you know we’ll all be donning designer masks, make life safe, and honoring God with our love.
© 2020 Fr. Ken Ramon-Landry. Hattiesburg, Mississippi. May not be reproduced without written permission.
May 15th, 2020
REFLECTION VIII FOR AT HOMERS
My first degree was in Psychology. A study by Harry Harlow took infant monkeys from their mothers and gave them two inanimate surrogate mothers. One was wire and wood but provided nourishment. The second was covered in foam rubber and soft terry cloth. During times of stress those who needed comfort from the wire and wood surrogate would throw themselves on the floor and rock themselves back and forth as a means of self-soothing. The others would stay close to the terry cloth mom and cuddled until they reached a place of calm.
Why share this? This morning, a first responder of Cuban descent, had tears in his eyes as he shared about not being able to hug his 74-year-old mom. Being a first responder, he limited himself, out of love for his mom, from interacting with her (terry cloth and foam rubber) and there were only phone conversations (wood and wire).
I know it is difficult to find certain items on store shelves. Work is important. There may be meat shortages due to Covid-19. However, this reflection is on the importance of touch. I reflect on it from memories from my family and my church families of Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary. I have never explicitly named hugging as important or gave a second thought to “being close” to those I love. I took for granted our Sunday morning hellos, goodbyes, handshakes and hugs. As I said in earlier, I never thought a virus would rob me of this fundamental human need. Touch is our first language even before sight and speech.
How many remember your babies and the moments when you put your finger near their precious little hands? What they did without even opening their eyes. They grasped your finger! They needed that physical/emotional connection even before food. This touch has profound import in later life for social, emotional and relational health. .
So, what do we do, as we find ourselves isolated, alone, and suffering from touch starvation during these days lest we risk our lives (which sounds awful even as I write that phrase)? Culturally, it is true that the closer we are to equator the more tactile and touchy-feely we are. Thus, all of us humans, to varying degrees, have this need.
AT First, if you live with others give each other a hug for those of us who do not. Touching regularly in confined spaces builds deeper intimacy, heretofore, taken for granted. Second, while animals are no substitute for human touch, petting them as often as possible can, for some, help keep our sensory and kinesthetic muscles alive. Touch other things with texture. Pay attention to how a shower feels on your body or clothes on your skin. Psychologist call these simple exercises aids to bringing us back into our bodies. Light a candle, “feel” its light and heat. Pray for those in the hospital who cannot have another hold their hand regardless of the affliction. Reach out with a note if someone has died and their family had to lay them to rest with a graveside service with 10 people or less. Write a letter so a loved one can touch that paper and connect, in a tactile way, with one they must distance from. Each time you don a mask, wash your hands or hang up the phone give thanks for all you are protecting with that simple act of great love. We cannot touch music, but it can touch us; subscribe to Spotify. Remember our imprints do not fade from the lives we have touched or those who have touched us. Believe that the Holy Spirit still touches your heart and that Jesus walks with us touching us at the deepest level. Know you are loved.
© 2020 Fr. Ken Ramon-Landry. Hattiesburg, Mississippi. May not be reproduced without written permission.
May 12th, 2020
MIDWEEK REFLECTION III FOR AT HOMERS
I watch about one-half to one hour of news before I get totally depressed. Good news is I have control, like my diet, what I consume and what I do with it. Today numbers continued to go up for those affected by and who died from Covid-19. But what got my attention was a pastor saying during these days, because of finances in the Church, he questioned his vocation asking where was God now? That hit me wrong, big time!
I thought, “Poor ole God…one more thing to blame the Almighty for doing!” That being said, I asked myself, “Okay, Ken, then as a person of faith, how do you respond to such charges?” My response follows in this third Midweek Reflection.
This question occurs when something negative has woken us up from our autopilot stance toward life. So, if we blame God for so much wrong, why do we not praise God for all that has gone right. Not sure about you, but for me, I have many, many more blessings in my life and ministry then I do hurts or occasions to blame God for anything.
Back to “waking up”. True, Covid-19 has roused many of us from the slumber we call life. Sickness, death, grocery store lines, masks, church cancelled, unemployment…there is a litany out there and we know it well. But even as I name these, I think they are losses because the virus has taken them from us not God!! God does not make us sick, the virus does. God does give us health, first responders and a wonderful healthcare system when we do get sick. Right? Death comes to all of us. Sadly, to many from this virus. But from my perspective, even with the small gatherings to lay a loved one to rest, there is love to be had and gratefulness for a life that ended way too soon but lives that blessed us! Grocery stores: All I can say is we will never look at food the same or the blessings we enjoy in a land of plenty. Church, again how many times did something trivial take its place: sports, hunting, laziness, or vacation. None of these things are bad but we now have received the grace reminding us how blessed we are.
So, I guess God can be a convenient scapegoat, however, I would caution all of us that God does not cause bad things to happen; we humans do. Yes, even the coronavirus came from a lab or outdoor market in China not God!! Richelle Goodrich, in her book, Slaying Dragons, shares her wisdom around this issue saying sadness, anger, and bad things can invite us to feel just the opposite. Be more cheerful when good things happen. Delight in the sunrise and the beautiful stars. Stand in awe of the rainbow after the storm. Savor each bit of food. Remember and delight in laughter and love. Notice joy. And, if you want to blame God for something, blame God for so much goodness. Of this our God is truly guilty…God is just too good to us.
© 2020 Fr. Ken Ramon-Landry. Hattiesburg, Mississippi. May not be reproduced without written permission.
May 8th, 2020
REFLECTION VII FOR AT HOMERS
This morning, at 2 AM, I was awakened by the sounds of fingers nervously tapping on tables around the world. No, I am not losing it, lol! It was an image that was so strong that I prayed into it. It was an image that tells me as time wears on this image signals boredom or irritation or both. I want to be back in school, tap, tap. I want to come to church, tap, tap. I need to work, tap, tap. I don’t want to wear a mask, tap, tap. I think you get it. Our patience which is pretty much always in short supply, is even more so now as we wait and time passes.
This is worldly waiting. It is that uncomfortable absence of “normal”. It signals we want to move on. But, realizing we can’t make that happen any sooner than it is going to happen, why not utilize waiting in a more spiritual sense. Isaiah wrote, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) The Hebrew word for wait means “hope for” and “to anticipate.” For Isaiah waiting was not wasted time, but time pregnant with divine possibilities. Time for: A Savior; a word from God; a dream; a birth; liberation. Think about all that can happen when waiting is about possibility-focused and not problem-centered!
Abraham had to wait for his son, Isaac, to be born—for decades. Jacob waited for his wife Rachel, and he was joy-filled because he did. Joseph waited on God to discern how to be in relationship to his espoused. Mary waited for the fulfillment of the promise of God and trusted that her Son, after all these centuries of waiting, would be the promised Messiah. Jesus waited 30 years to start his ministry…talk about patience. Now Jesus is waiting, as are we, for his return. We believe that in waiting upon God, God will stoop down to hear our cry…not my words, God’s words!!
The author of Lamentations wrote, "The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the saving help of the Lord.” So, our waiting can produce much fruit during these days if we allow it to be so. Our waiting isn’t about what we can do, but what God can do through us.
Finally, waiting can also be a time of questioning our future, health, jobs, church and so on. One author, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote this: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. (EVEN WAITING!) Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” And so, we wait, with each other, into that distant day “into the answer.” Amen.
May 5th, 2020
MID-WEEK REFLECTION II
I recently read an article entitled “Growing in Place” obviously playing on the experience people throughout the world are having. In my mind, it takes a negative connotation and a passive stance and turns it into a positive response and an active stance toward our “now.” As I wrote last week, in the noise of all our lives, who could have imagined what we would be experiencing as this virus takes root everywhere and literally infects our earth and the lives of humanity. This virus gives us a choice…true, not one we wanted to make…but a choice still. Do we “shelter in fear” or “grow in place”?
A prescription has already been written for good people of faith and our world some were mentioned in the same article (paraphrased and edited to fit our reality here at Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary):
--the light of our lives must be faster than the darkness of the virus;
--the energy of our love must be faster than the fear of the unknown;
--the care we give must be faster than the sickness we suffer;
--the faith in our hearts must be greater than the doubts in our minds;
--the giving of our selves must be faster than hoarding stuff.
Everything depends on you and I following this human prescription touched by divine love until a medical miracle comes to be, so our future can be better and not just a return to the status quo.
“Growing in place” means that during these days we have to feed our souls and not just our fears. During our waiting, we ought not allow indecision to rule our lives, but take time to grow roots for the next challenge because there will be other challenges! One author says now is not the time for going wide but going deep in order to be storm proof we have to extend roots deep and far so we can thrive internally. Friends, I have said to many, this time is a nightmare from which we cannot awake because we are living it. Let’s not allow it to live us! Take what negativity gives us and turn it into wisdom for a better life. This time can be one of renewal and root-growing or retreat.
Not too long ago a number of us experienced tornadoes and saw many lives and trees uprooted by that storm. As I saw the destruction, I sought to understand why some trees were damaged but not uprooted. It was because deep roots had grown over years of struggles, great and small. Little storms and big storms challenge us, like those beautiful oaks, to put down deep roots. The song says, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I´m clinging. If love is Lord of heaven and earth…how can I keep from singing?”
Church, we have been through storms before on the inside and on the outside. Storms do pass. Let us believe that about this storm right now. Appreciate the day. Live the now. Seek the wisdom. Pray. Love. Grow in place. Peace.
Friday, May 1st, 2020
REFLECTION VI FOR AT HOMERS
I was praying this morning coming into the office. I was praying for “all those affected by the Coronavirus.” God, has a way of getting my attention because that prayer has been going up for weeks. The spirit was focusing me on “ALL THOSE”. Obviously, the first and most important part of that prayer is for those who have lost their lives to this virus and those who mourn their loss in ways totally alien to we humans.
The “ALL” expanded in my heart and soul. I stated the obvious, “for those on the frontlines…our medical professionals and first responders.” I think of their families and how those with children have not hugged them or even been home for 6 weeks fearful of infecting those they love. “ALL” has expanded to grocery store clerks and stockers, people taken for granted in our everyday, now heroically serving in ways never imagined.
“ALL” expands to Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary and our families. It embraces our schools and their families. It seems “Catholic” while important is not the main focus. Our humanity is. Our well-being is. Our safety is. Our love is. I think of those families connected in a web of other families, like my own, distancing, no embrace, struggling with the ravages of isolation and realizing phone calls and face time only go so far.
“ALL” embraces faiths not able to gather on the Lord’s day. And yet, in that mystical union we do…all who wanted to gather and be one in prayer, in the Word, in union with each other even if by live-streaming. “ALL” are those with tears in their eyes seeing Easter lilies but unable to touch or smell them. It is those who got emotional hearing the organ play with applause erupting on FaceBook by those who heard it.
“ALL” includes the many who are unemployed now or under-employed. It is the trickle-down economics of being helpless to be helpful. By association then creditors and bankers, doctors and power companies, landlords and laborers who have, for the most part, been so kind and understanding in ways never thought possible.
“ALL” is moving to our farms and factories. As the little business of restaurants and the big businesses of schools no longer need milk, vegetables or meat as they once did… tears come to their eyes as they share fears of a future that is not bright nor promising. “ALL” is the ever-present question of how long, O Lord? It is wondering what society will be like when we start up again, however slowly. It embraces the lessons we have learned, the things we have forgot, the wisdom we have acquired and a silent promise to never take for granted what seemed so accessible just months ago!
“ALL” reminds us we are one planet. If global warming did not get our attention, this virus did. 185 countries in all! Now this “ALL” will expand to our most vulnerable countries. How many thousands, if not millions, will sadly be included in our “ALL.” In so many countries with incredible healthcare systems, look at our loss. Pray hard for those countries that have always struggled with poverty and disease and few resources. Yes, we are one planet and we all cherish the gift of life as tough as it can be sometimes. We are ALL in this together and no one can wake up from this nightmare until ALL of us shake off any remaining complacency and stand together in a sacrificial, agape love because it is the right and just thing to do so that ALL may live and our planet may be healed!
So, friends, let our prayers be expansive and bold, spacious and roomy, hope-filled and faithful, grateful and constant for “ALL THOSE AFFECTED BY THE CORONAVIRUS” and “ALL THOSE WHOM GOD LOVES AND NEVER FORGET.” Love you ALL!
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
In another lifetime I felt I was called to exercise my priesthood as a Benedictine monk. Obviously, that was not so. My spiritual director told me I would make a great priest but a horrible monk! However, that has never stopped me from loving monastic spirituality. I loved the divine office chanted several times a day in the Abbey Church. At night, before retiring, we had compline and read Psalm 91. Remember? “You will not fear the terror of the night / nor the arrow that flies by day, /nor the plague that prowls in the darkness, /nor the scourge that lays waste at noon.”
Never, in all my years, would I have thought the threat of a plague would apply to me or our community of faith. But in the midst of our “now” it is time to pray in earnest and believe there is no need to fear, renewing our faith in the One who delivers us from the plague of fear and dread.
The other wisdom was that of my cell (aka my room). St. Benedict wrote, “Your cell will teach you if you let it.” I thought of that in reference to all who are sheltering in place, distancing, and apart because of love. We are not accustomed to “our cells,” our homes, in this fashion but they have something to teach us. What? Perhaps this moment is a time to reassess our priorities. Our lives, just months prior, revolved around doing and things giving us meaning. That has drastically ceased for many. Perhaps in a strange way those two things undermined our access to grace and our spiritual heritage. Busyness, mindless activity, scurrying from here to there and complaining, still did not stop our frantic activity. We lived on autopilot. No more. We have been forced to face our thoughts, our feelings, and to know our truth. We can run away from this or learn truth from it in “our cells.”
Solitude will not kill us but it can frighten us formerly busy folk. Have we prayed during these days? Not, protested, my friends, truly prayed. Silence. Meditation. Sacred Song. Word. Have we attended to the many ways we have not exercised our spirituality that has always been available to us? Is Jesus present only in church? Does the Spirit take a break just because we can’t gather? Does creativity cease because it isn’t on a store shelf? Can this time be a bridge to be more loving when all this passes or will we return to the mire of life again? Can our cells help us value family in ways we never have before? A proverb says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come!”
Are we interceding as disciples of Christ or closing ourselves up and off from this planet so in need of soaking prayer that heals? Friends, we have an opportunity to yield control of our lives, to trust in the goodness and providence of God amidst all that is happening. To be aware that now is the time to be held tight by the divine presence of God surrounding us and guarding us from the plague of fear, anxiety and loneliness by realizing we are never alone and always loved. Welcome to monasticism.
Friday, April 24th, 2020
REFLECTION V FOR “AT HOMERS”
A national basketball team to fans: “We are all one team this season.” From a beer commercial, “This Bud is for the blues” in support of our healthcare workers. A pizza company, “Stay home. We deliver.” Actors to the country, “We are all in this together.” A hotel chain with Captain Obvious, “He is going to be social distancing for awhile and so should you.” Jack Daniels, “Cheers to making social distancing, social. With love, Jack” as we see a virtual birthday party, friends sharing a meal on face time, and a game of chess with a friend by phone.
Church, God writes straight with crooked lines. This is the best of humanity as we show the God within us by doing the loving thing. There are those who are not doing so. A pastor saying social distancing and staying at home is from the devil. Politicians claiming a deep-state conspiracy. A 50+ year old woman coughs on a Detroit bus driver, Jason Hargrove, who dies of the coronavirus 11 days later.
Our choice of focus is critically important in this unique time. Not our church, US or state history…but our human history. As deaths rise exponentially, we can no longer view this as annoying, another’s work, government interference or personal deprivation—it is about ALL OF US. ALL. Not 90%, not healthcare or government, not frontline individuals in our stores or transportation, NO!! ALL OF US! Say that, “ALL OF US!” are responsible for controlling and conquering this virus as well as those who will die, those who will recover and, please God, those who will never get this plague because we cared enough to care!!!
Created by God we have the ability to be creative ourselves. We can continue navel-gazing and finger-pointing but neither are productive nor do they help us fight OUR enemy: Coronavirus. Our common goal is no less than LIFE. It is that simple and profound. In an interview with that defiant pastor, the news reporter asked if he was pro-life? He said, “Certainly.” “Then how can you bring 1,800 people to your church who will then go home to families and friends and possibly infect and kill them?” The pastor claimed assembling was a Christian’s right. That is a false equivalency. The two are not on the same level of moral importance when gathering together can kill…period!
Christ gave his life so we might live. Christ would not expect us to gather when that gathering causes harm to those he gave his life for…US!! Christ does not need our sacrifice…he has already done that. Christ does not need us to be sick or dying. Christ needs us to use the gifts we have, right where we are to ensure that what we are experiencing will not divide us but make us better, stronger and more grace-filled when we will finally gather again and celebrate life that is always worth the sacrifice…ALWAYS!
Friday, April 17th, 2020
REFLECTION IV FOR “AT HOMERS”
I read an article for this Reflection for “At Homers” IV. It was about a woman who discovered herself in hardships: a depressed mom, no family meals—ever; very little mother/daughter conversation and so on! It was her sob story of all she didn´t experience and should have. Finally, she realized in her journaling the depth of her mom’s suffering and it helped her to finally feel compassion instead of anger. It was not just about her. This came as she contemplated the woes facing us with the spread of coronavirus: the loss of lives and jobs, healthcare workers in danger, stay at homers, schools and businesses closed, and so much fear and uncertainty.
Having learned from this she asked for the grace to see this time of woe from the viewpoint of Mother Earth: these few months alongside 4.5 billion years as Earth’s most disruptive time is in this century. Mother Earth wore her patient, pained smile like an annoyed parent helping her clueless child understand why a time out is necessary. Thus, our behavior now necessitates a time of introspection and modification right now in this crucial moment.
Environmentally, we are destroying our planet, other species and natural resources are greatly threatened. We each generate 4.5 pounds of garbage a day. We used over 142 billion gallons of gas in 2019. This has led to loss, toxicity, death of lands, and countless life-threating (Earthwise) evils. Mother Earth, in this unfortunate time, bids us take this opportunity to collect ourselves and reflect on our lives before we reach a point of no return.
Coronavirus is painfully teaching us. It doesn’t differentiate by skin color, nationality, or religion. To the virus—like to Mother Earth—we are all the same human family and truly connected. We use less toilet paper because we have no more. We waste less food because we eat at home and it can be scarce. We travel less, walk more. We support each other in entirely new ways. Health matters more than wealth. We are shutting down our usual way of life to protect our most vulnerable population and each other.
Mother Earth reminds us sustained human health is not possible without a healthy planet. During our timeout, pollution is clearing in many cities. Skies are blue and there is fresh air to breathe. Venice’s canals are the clearest in 60 years. We are remembering just how much beauty has been sacrificed for commerce. People have mobilized. Massive changes in one month’s time. Life is our school, our church and our business. Earth is humbling us and we are aware of our weakness and the illusion we are in control. We are not!
Rays of hope: first a cure, please God!! Second, can we aim these resources and determination toward solving our chronic and threatening environmental and social issues? What a blessing it would be if this outbreak was not just a hardship, but served as a time of reflection that ultimately helps our human family to care for our planet and each other in ways we never have before. Remember: Staying positive doesn’t mean that everything will turn out okay. Rather, it means that YOU will be okay no matter how things turn out. Keep the faith!
Friday, April 10th, 2020
REFLECTION III FOR “AT HOMERS”
We are built for community. God lived in the community of the Trinity. In the Garden, God said, “It is not good for us to be alone.” The first community was created: family. In the days of social distancing and voluntary isolation I think it is important for us to be a bit kinder and a lot more patient. I notice myself snapping at people I respect for no good reason. Normally that doesn’t happen because there are other outlets where I can put them on the back burner until I can be more positive in my response. But, my friends, let me state the obvious, these are not normal days and they are about to get even more intense.
What gives? If we combine our reality with our American way of life, we can get a soup that doesn’t taste so good. We are used to activity and doing what we want which is no longer true. Everything has been affected. Our families, if we are affectionate, cannot show this now. Our church, that for many was their social contact for the week, sees live streaming video. Our stores have become places of being stared down or shouted at if we do keep our distance. Teachers who love the classroom are now chained to computers and students who love school are confined to their homes without their friends. I agree, there is no room for mistakes. I understand this, we are going to err. May we never cause another harm but let’s realize we are all new at this and be more understanding.
You might say, “But we are all at home?” But “home” always included more…visits, hugs, friends and gatherings. I know we love our families. The absence of community in our families is palpable. My example: not hugging my 84-year-old mom or entering her house. Judging myself harshly as a pastor for not “being” pastoral. Saying goodbye to loved ones at the cemetery and not with a Mass. Schools eerily silent with children’s play and laughter silenced. You can make your own list.
So, I write this to encourage amid discouragement. I write this to be at peace with my internal struggles of distancing even though logically I get it! I write this to embrace the creative we are all in as we love differently to keep each other safe. I write this for self-awareness of many things I took for granted and now I miss dearly. I write this to be more grateful for life as the death toll continues to climb. I write this realizing there is a future for most of us and resurrection for some, because we are a community…however apart we may be right now. Finally, I write this thanking God it is 2020; a time when social links and research are abundant as we are connected in ways we never dreamt of. Connections that, in the long run, will save untold numbers of lives!!
So, until there is a cure, we will be community in a different way. But distance does not equal lonely. Distancing does not deprive us of the profound privilege to love each other, not how we would like to love, but how we need to love. As one author writes, “Love is its own reward. … We can never feel alone or isolated when we understand that it is impossible for love to leave our side. Love is all around us.” Love is right by your side. His name is Jesus and you can be as close to him as you want to be. He is only a prayer away. We may be apart but we are never alone!!! Blessings to you all.
Friday, April 3rd, 2020
Reflection II for “At Homers”
Ever think about the word “home.” I was a novice in a monastery near Covington, LA. In those days, I was truly searching for a spiritual home as well as an emotional dwelling place after coming to terms with the effects alcoholism can have on folks. The abbot then, may he rest in peace, was Abbot Patrick Regan, OSB. In our weekly meetings it seemed I was always seeking that “place” I could finally call home. As I prepared to leave the Abbey, Abbot Patrick asked, “Ken, do you know what a pilgrimage is?” Of course, I did not. He continued, “It is a long journey to a distant place only to return and discover what you have been looking for has been inside you all along.” That has stayed with me for over 4 decades.
Friends, home is not outside of us…it is inside. Home is not just an external geographical location or address. It can be an internal geography where we feel at-one with ourselves. Perpetual wandering for Christians is a crucial part of the holy narrative of faith. From our first parents cast out of Eden to this day we have found ourselves strangers in a foreign land. The word “Hebrew” describing our Judaic ancestors comes from the word traverse or cross. All having to do with movement from one place to our home.
Hebrews 3: 4 reminds us, “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” Paul writes, “Though our earthly home be destroyed, we have an eternal home in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Cor. 5: 1) Our hymnody is full of this notion. Jerusalem, My Happy Home …when shall I come to thee? Swing Low, Sweet Chariot coming for to carry me where? Home! Jesus will return to do what? He will take us home.
In these days when many are confined to their homes, could there be a worldwide divine invitation being delivered? An invitation to once again embrace “home” in our lives? As we stay home, cars are idle and creation breathes clean air. Strangers, called family, actually come to know one another again for the first time. We learn to love extended family from a distance perhaps more than we ever did when we could physically visit each other. That place within each of us suddenly becomes shared from the inside out as home reminds us of what is truly important: faith, family, health, love, sharing, listening, compassion. All just different ways to say…home. Welcome home church! May the virus soon be no more…may the lessons we learn about home never be forgotten. Amen.
A reflection for “At Homers”
I disliked philosophy when I was studying to be a priest. As I got older, I figured out philosophy comes from philosophers. These are men and woman who tirelessly search for the truth of life in their lives and are willing to sacrifice much for that truth. One such person was Søren Kierkegaard. He died at the young age of 33. He was raised by a severe father in the Lutheran faith whose main focus was death saying the family was cursed. His father focused on agony and sin and, not surprisingly, Søren was filled with dread. Then something amazing happened. Søren began to think for himself. He wanted to know one truth that was true for him that he would live and die for.
Pushing through melancholy caused by a religion based in externals, Søren challenged God after reading the gospel where, after the Crucifixion, the disciples huddled in fear in the Upper Room. Then Jesus shows up, “Peace be with you.” Søren said in that moment if this “Jesus” wanted to show up in his life it would only be through thoroughly locked doors. Jesus loves a challenge. One day Søren realized he had been found by God. He was no longer outside religion, but inside faith. He embraced faith as a passion that invited him to live life to its fullest sense.
Søren realized in his growing up years his fellow “believers” were baptized pagans and oblivious to sincere and transformative spirituality. He challenged “Christians” saying this name was not a label nor an identity meaning nothing to those who bear it. He dared his readers to take all their lives to become a Christian. Choose, again and again with each new day, to be a real self, an authentic person in relationship to a living God. Abandon the calculated safety of religion for a reckless, wholehearted life of faith in Christ. Continue to become. Grow. Risk. Take that radical leap of faith right now.
Lent is a time to wake up to risky joy of authentic faith. Lent is a time of prayer. Søren wrote that prayer is not to influence God but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. It is a daily encounter with the eternal that is essential as breathing. The most radical prayer Søren uttered again and again was a prayer of thanks to God for doing so indescribably much more than he had ever expected. Søren reminds us that the best help in all actions is to pray; this is true genius of one who never goes wrong in life.
In these days that can seem dark, let God love you. “Father in heaven, never let us forget that you are first and foremost love. Let this conviction triumph in our hearts and in our lives even in these days of alarm, anxiety, fear or distress.” Take the risk today. Fling yourself into God’s presence everyday and know the one, good unshakeable thing in life that will never change: You are a person found and loved by God. Amen.