Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Prayer at an Empty Chair

The Empty Chair by Dena Cardwell
For those grieving the loss of a loved one, Thanksgiving and "the holidays" can be a particularly difficult time. Anticipation of these special days begins early and so I'm posting this prayer today, a week ahead of Thanksgiving Day...
A Prayer at an Empty Chair

This Thanksgiving, Lord,
there’ll be an empty chair at our table,
an ache in our hearts
and tears on our cheeks...

We might shield others from our grief
but we can't hide it from you...

We pray for (name your loved ones)
whose loving presence we'll miss
at this homecoming time...

Help us remember and tell again
the stories that knit us as one
with the ones we miss so much...

Open our hearts to joyful memories
of the love we shared
with those who've gone before us...

Let the bonds you forged so deep in our hearts
grow stronger yet
in remembering those who've left our side...

Help us pray and trust that those we miss
have a home in your heart
and a place at your table forever
and that one day we'll be one with them
once again...

Teach us to lean on you and on one another
for the strength we need
to walk through these difficult days...

Open our eyes and our hearts
to the healing, the warmth
and the peace of your presence...

Give us quiet moments with you in prayer,
with our memories and loss,
with our thoughts and tears...

Be with us to console us
and hold us in your arms
as you hold the ones we miss...

Even in our grief, Lord,
this is the day that you have made:
help us be glad in the peace you've promised,
the peace we pray you share
with those who've gone before us...

For ourselves, Lord,
and for all who find the holidays to be a difficult time,
we make this prayer...

Prayer can provide a path through these days as well as opportunities for acceptance, healing and helping one another. You might pray this alone as Thanksgiving approaches or print it, forward, share and post it for others who might find it helpful...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Ritual: where you might least expect to find it!

There begins this coming week the season generally referred to as “the holidays,” a portion of the calendar stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Some of the celebrations in this season are common to all and others are particular to different faiths and followers. Without wanting to omit less well-known dates, “the holidays” are generally understood to include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day. And each of these celebrations has its own rituals.

Consider Thanksgiving Day which is fast upon us. How many times have you already been asked (or have you asked others) this question: “So, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” There’s a ritual fascination for knowing when and where we and others will celebrate this day. And many times have you heard a response like, “Oh, we’re going to my sister’s - she’s having 29 for dinner.” At no other time of the year are we likely to know, much less announce to others how many people will be at table for a particular meal. A number of other ritual questions may follow: will it be a fresh or frozen turkey - and how much does it weigh? how many vegetables? sweet potatoes with or without marshmallows? who’s bringing what? is he bringing that string-bean casserole again? what kind of stuffing do you make? how many pies and what kind? are your married kids coming home or going to the in-laws?

Much conversation like this will be conducted before Thanksgiving and will then be repeated again after the holidays when folks begin to ask, “So, how was your Thanksgiving?” There’s a definite ritual dialogue that occurs before and after the actual Thanksgiving Day meal.

And what of the ritual dynamics and conversations that surround the Thanksgiving gathering? Will there a table for adults and a kids' table, too? Will there be a prayer before the meal even at tables where no prayer is usually offered? Do you go around the table inviting guests to mention things they’re grateful for this Thanksgiving? Who will carve the turkey? Who will get the drumsticks? Who will break the wishbone? What family stories are told every year and exaggerated even beyond last year’s telling? Who will be the predictable tellers of the predictable stories? What political and religious topics will be fair game during dinner? At what point will some portion of those gathered excuse themselves to go watch the game?

Odds are you’re adding your own family’s ritual words and deeds to the list I’ve offered above. True ritual behavior and dialogue have many functions. They reconnect us to our roots and one another. They offer us a conversation in which all participants know the vocabulary and their own part. Ritual can offer us, if only for a few hours, a moment of sanity and serenity amidst the chaos of the rest of life. We are drawn to such ritual gatherings because they have the power to reassure us that in spite of everything else, there is still point in time, a place in our lives, in which peace can be ours in the simple experience of sharing a meal among those who have helped, for weal or for woe, to shape our lives.

We should be grateful to know that a holiday like Thanksgiving not only survives but thrives in a culture that so easily dismisses ritual behavior as rote and empty. And following Thanksgiving a whole season of such experiences draws us together between the end of November and the early days of January.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it might be helpful to reflect on how such holiday and family rituals play out in and prosper our lives and well-being: how these tried and true, age-old familiar activities and conversations touch us in the depths of our hearts and connect us with realities more important than we might often realize and acknowledge.

And may I take this opportunity to remind you that this very same ritual dynamic is played out week after week in our houses of prayer? The ritual of worship in any faith is filled with: familiar words and dialogue; old, even ancient stories of the family of faith; meals shared in remembrance of our roots and our connection to one another; the offering of a place where peace can be found, where one can escape the chaos not by running away from it but by hastening towards a center, a calm, a serenity the chaos can never overwhelm.

The rituals of “the holidays” are life-giving in many ways but they also put us in touch with our losses, our hurts and our disappointments. Rituals in faith communities do the same but, again, such ritual offers a place not to deny our pain but to find healing for it in a community of others sharing joys and sorrows alike with any who will give themselves to the words and deeds of shared, ritual prayer.

May the rituals of this season of holidays enrich, strengthen, delight and heal you in your heart of hearts. And may the rituals of these holidays draw you home, through the new year, to the community of faith whose rituals are yours - and are waiting for you...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

For Christ the King

Christ KingA famous and traditional hymn is frequently used today.  A hymn has strong theology, beautiful poetry, noble and moving sentiments and a simple, worshipful and singable tune. This is not a praise song or a devotional ditty or a song which, if you changed the word ‘Jesus’ to ‘my baby’ could make it into the pop charts. Read it and maybe sing it and ask yourself if you understand all the allusions, the symbols, the Biblical references–and if you do not why not?
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His pierc├Ęd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Executive orders…

I’m sure we all have our own ideas about the plans
the president announced on Thursday night.
And what we think of what he said will depend largely
on our thoughts about immigration reform.

But whatever our opinions on those issues,
there’s another question of executive privilege before us today,
also connected to thoughts on reform.

I’m talking about the executive privilege God enjoys over all of us
and the executive orders he issues about reform in our lives.

The full title of today’s feast is:
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
King of the Universe: you just can’t get more executive than that!
Nobody has authority higher, greater
or beyond the King of the Universe
and that’s how we honor Christ today.

Several questions follow from this:
- What authority over my life do I acknowledge and follow
above and beyond my own personal authority?
- How freely do I surrender my personal authority to Christ,
accepting his word and law as the norm
for reforming my life and my ways?
- In particular: do I accept Christ’s executive power over my life
when I’m uncomfortable with the reforms I believe
he’s calling me to make?

A feast like Christ the King challenges a culture like our own
which exalts the self as the ultimate authority, above all others,
and this day challenges us believers, followers of Jesus, to ask:
to whom do I pledge my allegiance?
to whom do I bend my heart?
to whom do I subject my will?

To whose rule do I turn when reviewing my need for reforming
my integrity? my honesty? my purity? my generosity? my charity?
my humility? my loyalty? my morality? my sincerity? my piety?
my decency? my fidelity?

It’s one thing to declare that Jesus the King of the Universe
but the harder question is this: is Jesus the King of my heart?
Does he rule over the choices I make?
Does he govern my desires?
Does he reign over my relationships?
Is he sovereign over my ethics?
Is he the crowned head of my family?

One way, a good way to know if Jesus is King of my heart
is to take a look around me
and see if I’m surrounded by sheep – or by goats.
In the gospel today Jesus took the time to list
not once, not twice, not three times - but FOUR times –
those signs by which I might know that I’m in with the sheep.

So bear with me
and listen a fifth time to the standards King Jesus sets
for reforming my life according to his heart:
feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger,
giving clothing to those who have none,
caring for the sick and for those who are in prison.

Whatever might be the implications of this scripture
for a nation’s immigration policies – and certainly there are some –
we need to remind ourselves that Jesus told this parable
not to crowds on a mountainside or by the shore,
but in a private conversation with his disciples, his closest followers.
He addressed it first to them
– and this morning to us, his followers today.

With regard to this scripture and today’s politics, two things are sure.
While Jesus is not proposing here a structure for immigration reform
(much less endorsing one plan over another)
it’s inescapably true that he’s handing over responsibility
for the care of the stranger, the poor, the sick and the incarcerated
into our laps, our checkbooks, our choices, our politics.
Jesus is less concerned with how we serve the least among us
and much more concerned that they be served
and not turned away – by you and me.

I cannot claim allegiance to Jesus as the sovereign of my heart
if I fail to find and serve him in the neediest of people,
wherever, however they come into our lives.

There are so many ways each of us can respond
to the very people King Jesus presents to us in the gospel --
right at our church doors this weekend.

There are the Giving Trees
and you can be sure that those gifts will go
in every case to the poor
and in many cases to newcomers, strangers in our land.

And the Prison Gift Bag Project will reach through the bars into cells
at MCI Concord to men who will be among the loneliest of all
on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Our parish is not unique in these efforts
and I know that many of us are being generous in other venues, too.
But this!
Let none of us be among the goats who, the day after Christmas,
might have to ask,
“But, Lord! When did we see you hungry or thirsty
or naked or a stranger or ill or in prison and not serve your needs?”
Rather, let all of us be counted among the sheep who recognize
and reach out to Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,
in the neediest and most marginalized of all God’s people.

Let us pray for a spirit of generosity among us
who so often have so much more than we need.

The King of the Universe invites us now to his table,
to feed our hungry hearts and slake our thirsty souls
serving us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

May we who recognize and receive our King
in the Bread and Cup of the altar,
recognize and warmly receive and serve him
in the lives of the stranger, the poor, the sick and the imprisoned.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Sunday Word

Tomorrow is the Solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Year of Grace 2015. Next weekend will bring us to the First Sunday of Advent in the Year of Grace 2016. (On the liturgical calendar, the First Sunday of Advent is a kind of New Year's Day!)

It's time to sit down with the scriptures and prepare for hearing them proclaimed at Mass on Sunday.

The first scripture is from the Book of Daniel and includes the title "Son of man" (which we often hear in the gospels, though not in this week's gospel passage). This vision in Daniel gives us an ancient reference for the kingship of Christ. The gospel is from John and takes us to the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, a text we hear every Good Friday. Here Jesus and Pilate debate their notions of kingship. The second scripture of the day is from Revelation: the text echoes some of the imagery from the Daniel passage and makes a fleeting reference to the Passion in the words, "those who pierced him."

Kingship, dominion, kingdom, the Almighty... these scriptures draw us to consider the power of God in our lives and God's sovereignty over us. These are categories somewhat foreign to our times and culture. The question comes, then, "Who and what reign over my heart and my life?"

Friday, November 20, 2015

“Lord, please let me see.”

“What do you want me to do for you?”
He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”

Our Gospel is magnificent. It’s right smack in the middle really of Luke’s gospel. And it’s a a hinge story. Much will turn on this tale that Luke, Mark and Matthew tells. A tale undoubtedly based upon something very real. 

The fact that the person Jesus heals in the story is named. Not always the case. But in this case the person is named. Indicates it’s probably a story very vividly remembered. In fact, this person in question was probably around for some time after the Jesus’ death and resurrection and probably there telling and correcting this story, a point of reference for it.

And so it’s very much a real tale. At the same time I think it is a beautifully elaborated tale. What I mean, is the Gospel writers brings out the theological and spiritual significance of this healing of Jesus. That’s what I think it makes it powerful for us even 2,000 years after the event. Listen to how the story begins, “as Jesus approached Jericho” with his disciples and a sizable crowd. Now Jericho was a city in Jesus time, in fact, one of the oldest cities in the world. A city you can visit the ruins the ancient city today. But for any biblical person Jericho meant much more than a city east of Jerusalem. For Jericho was a city that the Israelites destroy when they came into the Promised Land, led by Joshua. Hence the famous parading around the walls of Jericho, the trumpet blast, the walls come tumbling down, Jericho then comes to symbolize sin or dysfunction.

If the Israelites symbolize God’s way in the world, then Jericho is the enemy of that, what stands in the way of it. Therefore, any bionically mindful person, reading this story and hearing about Jesus near Jericho has all kinds of associations. Jericho lying in a sort of lower area, the city of sin, symbolizing the fall away from grace, the fall away from the ways of God. Well sitting next by the wall of that city is a blind man the son of Timeaus, hence Bartimaeus, a blind man who’s by the wall of Jericho begging. Now to this day, you can find street people and beggars, some physically impaired who sit or stand outside of famous places and they beg. So that is the image we are meant to get here. Of this blind man who is begging. But, he is much more than that because of this spiritual overtone that Luke has. He is blind. Why? Well, he symbolizes all of us who to varying degrees live in the city of sin, who live in this dysfunctional place, perhaps violence, hatred, self-absorption, all those things opposed to God. As a result we are blind spiritually. We don’t see what we are meant to see. We don’t see the ways of God. We are blind to them. Furthermore, Bartimaeus is a beggar. Here’s a very deep spiritual truth. But our spiritual problem is not like that. It is not a problem that we can solve. Robert Barron explains, “ sin is a problem with the will and with the mind. They become perverse and twisted. Therefore if the mind and the will are the problem then more mind and more will ain’t going to be the solution. That’s why spiritually speaking all of us are beggars. Beggars, we’re blind, and we have to beg, to be saved. So, we are meant to identify with Bartimaeus. All of us are meant to identify with this blind beggar by the wall of Jericho.”

Bartimaeus, began to cry out and say, Jesus son of David have pity on me.” “Lord, have pity. Christ, have pity.” Lord have pity on me. We put ourselves ritually in the place of Bartimaeus, acknowledging as the Mass begins that we are blind, we have lost our way, we are beggars and we not able save ourselves. This by the way, is Bartimaeus’ great virtue, his great grace, is that he realizes he’s a beggar. He realizes he has to beg. Many don’t realize that. They think “all is well.” Or all can be made well by our own efforts. Yes, the secular culture teaches that, but not the Bible.

“Many rebuked him telling him to be silent.” Well people are kind of embarrassed by this display. Here’s the famous preacher going by and here is this embarrassing street person, this blind beggar and he’s crying out like a lunatic. So the people are embarrassed, you know, and they tell him to be quiet. The same way we probably would today, if a famous person was going by and there was some poor soul some street person and they cry out. Would probably get embarrassed too. Symbolically speaking we are on very holy ground here, because Luke is telling us, even to this day, when you acknowledge your blindness, and you acknowledge your incapacity to save yourself don’t expect a lot of support. We live in a culture that is very me-centric, we love people that are powerful, that are self-reliant. Who likes someone who is a beggar? Who acknowledges his powerlessness? No one likes that. We celebrate, we hold up people who have it together. Who can solve their problems? I’m OK you’re OK. I’m the King of the World. But in the spiritual order it does not work that way. Bartimaeus is the one here who’s seeing clearly. But the world is not going to stand with him. And it won’t stand with us either, when we beg the Lord for pity, Beg the lord for mercy. Don’t expect a lot of support.

Now his great virtue. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David have pity on me” Good for you, Bartimaeus, despite the crowd, despite this lack of support you keep begging. Its good advice forever one of us. We are not going to get allot of support from the crowd today, But keep asking, Keep asking. Keep begging. How often, by the way, in the Gospel the perseverance in prayer is recommended. Stay at it. Seek and you will find. Knock it will be open. Ask and you will receive. Don’t give up.

So Bartimaeus persevered. Jesus stopped. And Jesus said, call him. Jesus stopped. He is the still point. And they called him. Bartimaeus is being called out of his blindness. Out of Jericho. into a new way of being. Which means friendship with Jesus Christ. He’s a prototype here, of every one of us who are members of the Church. We have been called by Jesus out of Jericho into this new friendship. Take courage get up Jesus is calling you the crowd said, So he threw away his cloak. Sprang up. This is a baptismal image isn’t it.

Here Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. It’s symbolic of his old life. He springs up and comes to Jesus.

He says, The Lord says “What do you want me to do for you?”

Then the magnificent answer, “Master I want to see.”

What’s his problem? Blindness. Born of sin, born of self-absorption. What’s the solution? Sight. How do you get it? Not by your own efforts. You cannot make yourself un-blind. But you can come now into relationship with Jesus Christ. Who then gives you sight. So immediately he received his sight. And then what, the story ends with this, “he followed him” on the way.

Bartimaeus began stuck in the city of sin, blind and a beggar, but now called into the church, into friendship with Jesus Christ, he is now given his sight and then able to walk in the path of discipleship.