This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Perhaps I should think of myself as an orchard.

Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, Buffalo NY

Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut downand thrown into the fire. Mt 7:17-19

For as long as I remember hearing this passage, I think I have thought of it as applying to me and the life I lead.  Clearly I want to be a "good tree" that bears good fruit rather than a "rotten tree" that bears bad fruit.  I desire to be "good" and not "rotten."  Who wouldn't?

But there is a trap here of which I was unaware until I read a reflection on this passage by a fairly recent graduate of Notre Dame University on its excellent prayer web site.  Click here to visit the site and then bookmark.  The trap is the familiar either/or thinking with its bias for perfection.  Either I am a good tree or a rotten one.  This leaves little room for the reality of human life which is a mixed bag, to be sure.

It is the same impossible situation of which St. Paul warns us when he says that the Law cannot save us.  In fact, the Law brings death not life.  The Law must always focus on right or wrong, compliance or non-compliance.  There little room for the doubt or confusion that arises with real situations.  And the rules multiply to cover all foreseen eventualities.  In modern times, it is why the NCAA rule book runs to more than 500 pages with more being added each year.  And still there are violations; sometimes intentional and sometimes not.

This incapacity to deal with ambiguity and ignorance results in the need to make absolute and summary judgments, not just about acts but also about people.   There are good people and bad people just as the passage suggests there are good trees and rotten trees.

A seemingly slight change in perspective can make a tremendous difference.  What if I change my focus to the entire orchard rather than individual trees?  What if I think of myself as an orchard with both good tress and rotten trees?  Then wouldn't I focus on cultivating those aspects of my self which tend toward the good and try to lessen the growth of those that do not?  Wouldn't I have a more balanced view of my self?  I wouldn't have to be perfect but I would try to be better each day.

I find this to be a more wholesome way of thinking about this saying of Jesus.  What about you?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Being close to the Reign of the Divine One is not quite the same as being in it.

Tug with empty barge heading east on the Erie Canal
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.You are right in saying,He is One and there is no other than he.And to love him with all your heart,with all your understanding,with all your strength,and to love your neighbor as yourselfis worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,he said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."  Mark 12:32-34
This conversation takes place in the midst of a series of challenges to Jesus and his authority by the high priests, Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes.  They are all trying to rip him up except for this questioner who asks a sincere question:  "Which is the first of all the commandments?"  Jesus answers that the first and greatest is to love the Divine One with all one's heart and mind.  The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.   This was typical question used to engage people with the law and its fundamental principles.  With hundreds of laws and regulations, the law could be overwhelming and thus it would be natural to figure out the fundamental principles that ran through all the diverse regulations.

The scribe understands the wisdom of Jesus' answer.  Surely Yahweh cares more about fidelity to those two principles than any sacrifice offered in the temple.  Jesus realizes that he understands these fundamental principles of the law and tells him that he is "not far from the Kingdom of God."  This is an intriguing way of saying that simply living by these two principles is not enough to enter the Kingdom.  They are necessary but not sufficient in and of themselves.  Something more is required but what that something might be is left for another time.

What about me?  Living an upright life of loving God and loving my neighbor is also not enough to enter the Kingdom.  Something more is required...but what?

A week has gone by since I wrote the above sentence.  It is a haunting question that has only one answer, however uncomfortable that answer might be.  A life of rectitude is simply not enough.  I have to die to myself.  I have to give up what I want and I can do that because, in truth, I have everything that I need.  I have to somehow let go of my ego and its demands for attention, gratification, recognition, respect and on an on.  This is the path to recognition and acceptance of who I truly am, a child of the Divine One.

Monday, June 5, 2017

I am only a sharecropper

Sea of grass in Brighton NY

"A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it,dug a wine press, and built a tower.Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey."  Mark 12:1
This is the beginning of a parable that appears in all three of the synoptic gospels.  The story goes on to tell of the owner sending servants and finally his son to claim the results of the harvest.  The sharecroppers abuse them all and kill some including the son.  They labor under a mistaken idea that if they kill the heir, they will somehow inherit the vineyard.  Eventually the owner kicks them out and brings in new sharecroppers to manage the vineyard.  Mark's version as well as Matthew's and Luke's are directed at the chief priests, scribes and elders and the ways in which they have distorted the intentions of the owner, Yahweh, and have rejected the incarnated Word of Yahweh, Jesus.  This is re-enforced by the allusions to Isaiah 5:17 in the opening lines and the quotation from Psalm 118 about the stone rejected by the builders becoming the cornerstone.

Sometimes, scripture speaks to me in a different way providing me with a meaning that is salient to my life quite apart from the original meaning or intent.  That is what happened today as i reflected on this reading.  It came to me with even greater clarity that all I have , own, control, enjoy and experience is never really mine.  It is on loan from the Divine One who is the source of all life, present, past and future.  No matter how strong a feeling of ownership I may have, nothing ever really belongs to me.  This insight calls me to focus on being a good steward of the blessings and difficulties in my life.

In the end, I turn everything over to the Divine One from whom everything comes.  I am called to use whatever I have been given to draw myself and others closer to the Divine One.  I do this through works of mercy and justice that comes out of the conviction that all I have, especially when I already have enough for a fully human life, is to be used to provide that same kind of life to those who do not have enough.  Catholic social justice teaching is built on this bedrock belief.  It is why I am always and forever only a sharecropper who is called to accountability on how I have used the fields and livestock of the owner, the gracious Divine One and the Incarnated Word.