Category Archives: Faith

The Gift of Faith

i-have-learned-that-faith-means-trusting-in-advanceToday’s Gospel from Matthew, chapter 9, verses 18-26, although short, is full of action, and a real economy of language. We hear three things that we have heard in other places at other times, but they are compacted for us here.

In the space of 8 verses we hear about an official asking for Jesus’ help with his ailing daughter, a woman suffering from hemorrhages touching Jesus and being cured, and then Jesus gets to the official’s house where he encounters a crowd acting as if the girl is dead. He dispels that notion, and they mock him. That did not deter Jesus, and he entered the house, curing the girl.

Got FaithThe undercurrent of the entire matter is faith, which is coincidentally the essence of the new papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Faith – the essence of what we need, and yet, not something that we can understand with our intellect or with reason.

Which brings me back to today’s Gospel – full of action, and not so many words. Yet, we read, we ponder, we pray, we study. I started the encyclical, but I’m going slowly. In the meantime, how do we have faith? There is a question for the ages. Yet, some of us do. I think of mine as a gift, for which I am grateful.

What about you?

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What do I crave most? The Cravings blog tour stops here today

Today the Cravings blog tour stops here, and it is a privilege to host this visit. Cravings, A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God, is the latest offering from prolific local, Catholic author, Mary DeTurris Poust. She gives us a book that is personal, provocative and moving. We who are members of God’s body have very interesting and challenging relationships with our own bodies. And we as Catholics, who gather to eat at the Lord’s Table, often struggle mightily with food.

The blog tour offers you the chance to win a copy of the book, by leaving one comment on the blog per day between now and January 20th. Not only can you win a book, your name will also be added to a drawing to win a $100 Williams Sonoma gift card.

Interviewed for the book, I Continue reading

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The Realization of What is Hoped For, Evidence of Things Not Seen

And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] to the tent of Sarah, his mother. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a cloud attached to the entrance of her tent. Since she died, the cloud ceased; and when Rebecca came, the cloud returned. All the days in which Sarah lived, the doors of the entrance [to her tent] were open to the wind (ruah)….  And all the days in which Sarah lived, there was a blessing sent through the dough [with which she baked]…. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a light burning from one Shabbat evening to the next Shabbat evening….” (Genesis Rabbah 80:16 on Genesis 24:67).- From Stories of our Ancestors at MyJewishLearning.com

The idea of a cloud at the entrance to Sarah’s tent intrigues me. Are you reminded of the mystery of God and the power of the unseen and transcendent when you consider this? I know that I am. 

We are celebrating the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time this weekend – with themes of ancestors and of faith in the readings. And we do specifically hear about our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah!

In the First Reading from Wisdom we are given a short reminder of the faith of our ancestors. Each generation, from one to the next, is connected and interdependent. We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. Someday we may be giants or at least regular sized ones, whose shoulders are the standing ground of the future. It is communion – we are all connected and it matters.

In the Hebrews reading from St. Paul gets straight to the point:

Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.

Faith and our ancestors… always intertwined, connected. This reading is pretty long but the point is clear if we pay attention. Abraham and Sarah were called out to places that they had no information about. And what did they do?

Off they went! Paul says: “By faith Abraham obeyed…” I am always on about the etymology of obedience, which tells us that obedience is rooted in listening.  As I understand faith and the journey of Abraham and Sarah, listening would have been required. Yet it is something that it is hard for us to do as humans, isn’t it?

The focus is on Abraham but it is Sarah that captivates me today. It was one thing for Abraham to listen but clearly they were in this together and she had to have her own faith. I love the imagery of the cloud before her tent. It reminds me that we have to enter into the mystery with faith in order to gain the wisdom. 

The midrash in the first paragraph reference reminds us of ruah – or wind. Wind and wisdom are often symbolically connected in Scripture, think Pentecost! See this, from that first source:

These characteristics of Sarah’s (and later Rebecca’s) tent are parallel to characteristics of the Tabernacle and Temple. Sarah’s bread is like the shewbread, the light prefigures the Menorah, and the wind resembles the Holy Spirit, ruah hakodesh. In particular, the cloud mentioned in the midrash alludes to the cloud of the Shekhinah, the personified aspect of God that is imminent. The Shekhinah is an aspect of God specifically associated with the Tabernacle and Temple. The book of Exodus ends with the completion of the Mishkan and the Israelites witnessing a cloud descending upon the tent (Exodus 40:34-38). Linguistically, the word Mishkan (literally, a dwelling place) has the same root as Shekhinah, and both of these terms draw on the idea that God can be experienced as close-by, not only as transcendent

Our faith invites us into the cloud and we, like our ancestors, can experience God as close-by… with that very faith and promise that has been offered to us over the ages.

The very long and powerful Gospel from Luke offers us many things to consider.  First of all – following our theme of faith – real faith, Jesus says what he so often says… “Do not be afraid…”

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.  Sit with that, listen with obedience. 

We are told using many metaphors, to be ready, be prepared, have faith. And we are also told this:

“…Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

This is a reminder for us all- we have been entrusted with much by the virtue of being Christians. It has been given to us and much will be required. This does not mean constant suffering, it means many things, not the least of which is the obedience and faith that is demanded of us who have enjoyed every fruit of grace.

So where does this leave us?  What is required? Perhaps it is as simple as it is complicated. We need to listen, we need to be obedient, we need to have faith, we need to go where we are called – which puts our obedience, faith and listening into action. And we must know that the cloud of mystery and wisdom will guide us to where we are called and that we must not be afraid.

As with most things we are invited to by God, it is easier said than done. With faith in that which is unseen but yet most evident, let us go forth.

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Forgiveness

In general, I have forgiveness and redemption on my mind. What is life if not we are not redeemed? Christian or not, religious or not, I think that the theme of redemption figures prominently in many of our lives, whether we realize it or not. That is because redemption is so tied up with forgiveness. There is a whole other reconciliation piece, but that is really another topic.

Do you think about these things also? Or is it just me being my over-thinky-church-life-nerd-self? Don’t answer that!

It is the 11th Week in Ordinary Time and we had some really good readings on this very topic. Go look at them if you wish, if not, stick around if you will. Maybe we can have a good conversation in the comments, because I am not going to do any big-time scriptural exegesis here today.

Of course I did want to, but I just couldn’t find my mark with the texts, so I planned on saying nothing. I did hear a homily at mass, but I did not really want explore in that direction. Or so I thought.

Today I was in my car listening to the radio. While I love WAMC Northeast Public Radio, I was growing weary of the fund drive. (Thank God it is over now.) So I had tuned into VPR for awhile. They carry WNYC’s great program, On The Media, so I was happy to listen.

The segment that I tuned in on was about Wilbert Rideau, prison journalist, someone I had never heard of until today. He is a prison journalist, because he was in prison.

Yes. He was in prison for 44 years. In that time, he was transformed and that is what his new book, In The Place of Justice, is about. I do not buy new books any longer, or rarely do anyway. This is one I think I am going to try to fit into the budget; it sounds compelling. The NYTimes review is available here.

Rideau’s life in prison is a story of transformation and redemption. While there is a discussion of what happened and how it happened, he robbed a bank and people did die. As a result, in 1961, Rideau was sentenced to death in Louisiana. I don’t think I have to tell you that the court system in Louisiana in 1961 was not exactly fair or friendly to black criminals – especially if they had robbed a bank and people ended up dead.

So Rideau was sent to Louisiana State Prison, also known as Angola, often called the “bloodiest prison in the U.S.”

What, you may ask, does this have to do with forgiveness and redemption? Please hang on, I am getting there.

During his time in Angola, Rideau did a lot of reading while he was in solitary confinement. This was the beginning of a great turning.  I got to thinking, as I heard his story on the radio, that sin is a prison. Now I am not saying that all our sinful acts are the problem… well they are, but the real problem is that sin is turning away from God. And to turn away from God is to turn away from God’s people.

No community.

This perhaps why solitary is real punishment – worse than death in many ways.

In any case, this is what he says about the impact of solitary and his reading:

“Reading ultimately allowed me to feel empathy, to emerge from my cocoon of self-centeredness and appreciate the humanness of others. . . . It enabled me finally to appreciate the enormity of what I had done.” 

It enabled him to finally appreciate the enormity of what he had done. Through words, through books – because people were not available to him, he found empathy. Rideau went on to become a journalist while in prison and his story is astounding. He was the editor of the Angolite, a prisoner produced magazine. While I am taking this in another direction, I do urge you to go read about Wilbert Rideau’s life and work.

Empathy is essential to life. Without it how do we relate to one another?  And if we are Christians (and I realize that some of you are not), how can we “do this in memory” of Jesus? How can we feed His sheep, if we do not do it with empathy?

Empathy opens our hearts to a path of connection, connection opens our hearts further to understanding, understanding – or something akin to it, deep within, leads us to forgiveness.

To forgive and to be forgiven – not two singular acts, but a dynamic – are essential to the very essence of Christian life. I would also posit that this is enormously important for all life.

Not unlike the woman in today’s Gospel (thought I had left that behind, right?), Rideau is at the bottom, outcast. When you are out there, there is no place to come but back in. And many of us, myself included, are like Simon the Pharisee. We’re in, we are the “good people,” to do-ers and be-ers of the world. We get things done, we play by the rules, we know what to do and we do it. Yay us!

Maybe not so much.

Faith is not just the work of do-ers and be-ers. Oh – make no mistake, there must be some of that, but we simply have to revisit the story of Mary and Martha to reframe that little idea, not to mention the second reading from today, from St. Paul.(Let’s not forget who Paul was before he was Paul, not exactly a follower of Jesus.)

And look at the first reading, about King David, from Samuel… David did awful, horrible things, yet he was a chosen one of God. We all do horrible things and yet, we are all chosen ones of God!

It is easy to cast aside the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, it is easy to cast aside Wilbert Rideau, it is easy to cast aside pretty much anyone we deem unworthy.

Thankfully, God sees otherwise. Wilbert Rideau learned to see otherwise about what he did. King David learned to see otherwise about what he did. St. Paul learned to see otherwise about what he did.

Can we see otherwise about what we did? About what others do? Whether we are talking about a death row killer or we are talking about a friend or family member who has angered us, we must find our way to empathy and forgiveness in some fashion. This is no easy or automatic thing, that is certain. However, the desire to heal, to restore the tear in the fabric, must be present.

How do we do this?

I’m not sure that I have a clue, but I find that I am always moved by the thought of it.

Father Pat constantly reminds us that we must do the one thing we do – keep coming back to the table each week. Week in, week out. Together we must find some pathway back to that table. And as we do so, we must be find pathways to the tables in our own hearts and the hearts of others.

What are our choices otherwise?

(I heard this great Johnny Cash song today, and it really fit with this post, so enjoy.)

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Deeper Water

From today’s Gospel, from Luke:

“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.

Where are you asked to put into deeper water by Jesus? And do you go?

I have a distinct memory from a very sad and fearful chapter of my life. I was on a business trip to Miami Beach, Florida. Early one morning I woke up and decided to walk on the beach for exercise.

At some point, I sat down on the sand, which at that early hour was not yet hot and not yet crowded. I prayed. As I looked out at the Atlantic before me, I began to envision myself floating and drifing outward. And as I drifted, I felt buoyed by God. It was one of those moments in which things change.

At the time, it was not clear, but I think that on that morning, I ended up putting into deeper water. And having done so, my net started to fill again.

Today I wonder where my deeper water is. I know I am asked to put out there, we all are. Just where and just how, those are the questions I pray with on this Sunday.

How about you?

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The Gospel of Blogging or How Online Community Has Changed Many Lives


Most of us have never met and never will. The majority are not Catholic; in fact, I am in a distinct minority. As a matter of fact, many people are not of faith at all.

What am I talking about? I am talking about the community that I have found in the blogword and on Facebook.

Why on earth is a 51 year old suburban woman so involved in this? My question is this – why not?

As I examine my faith and make the journey, I must revisit this matter of online community, evangelizing, faith formation and faith sharing.

If you know me you do know that there is no shortage of community in my life. I am busy with my family, our parish community here at St. Edward’s, with the parish community where I work – at Immaculate Conception, Glenville. In addition I attend St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

However, there is an imperative for me to connect through faith and so those boundaries expand into the virtual world… a world that is very real to me.

Not to mention that the stereotype of some lonely, isolated person hiding behind a computer screen is so often wrong. Or that such a person can be touched and changed. Transformed. That is why we follow Christ… To be transformed and to transform.

In my online faith communities we exchange thoughts and ideas, we agree and we disagree. We ask a lot of questions and we make each other think, ponder and pray. We laugh and we cry. We challenge, we listen. Sometimes we even fight. Then we forgive. We start out online on a blog or Facebook or some other forum. Then we email and after that we may talk on the phone. Some of us do meet – this is especially gratifying.

And we pray. How we pray. We ask for prayer, we offer prayer. We support one another through community and prayer in ways that are most powerful indeed. For example, the recent death of Catherine Peters in New Zealand has brought many of us, from all around the world, together in prayer.

I would venture to say that most of the people I interact with online are as busy or much busier than I am. They are mothers, fathers, students, teachers, clergy, business people. As I said earlier – so much for the loner and the computer; that is not usually the case in my experience.

It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most powerful evangelizing happens in my most secular blogworlds. There are the atheists… One recently asked me for prayers. I am honored and humbled at those moments and I pray. It has happened before and I can imagine that it will happen again. Conversion does not happen in a moment, it is a long and slow process that we all go through. If this is how it may start for another, then thanks be to God for that.

Then there are those who have been hurt by the institutional church, Catholic and other denominations too. They often start out defensive, angry and wounded. Frequently they feel abandoned and disillusioned. I get that – that was me once too.

Lecturing is not helpful – this I know! Being open and willing to talk is helpful. That is a time when reading things online is a big plus. I have found that when I write from deep within my faith, it can often privately touch the hearts of those who have closed the door completely. They may write to me or call me… we talk. Things happen. It is God’s work, not my own.

Faith isn’t one definitive turn. It is a daily journey and one that we will be on until our last breath. To that end, we are all being converted, always.

There are blogposts and comments, Facebook updates, emails and phone calls… Some may never come back to the table, some will. If they can let go of the hurt, even just a little, then something good has happened.

It is all very powerful and I am humbled and grateful to be a part of this. It made me think of this favorite hymn of mine and I dedicate this song to all those who are wanting to open their hearts… whether they know it or not.

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Wisdom’s Path – Prophetic Dreaming

“Wisdom’s Path” by artist Jan Richardson

I read this at Inward/Outward, a place that is a frequent source of inspiration for me.

A Theology of Hope

Mary Grey

Prophetic imagination, or prophetic dreaming, keeping visions alive, is what stimulates diverse groups forming society into becoming a culture of life, a biophilic, life-loving culture, to use an ecological term. It is also an authentic dimension of being and becoming Church. Together with the power of dangerous memory, these two activities are at the heart of a theology of hope. For prophetic imagination is outrageous—not merely in dreaming the dream, but in already living out of the dream before it has come to pass, and in embodying this dream in concrete actions.

Prophetic imagination. I love that thought. Many often think of our prophets as being in the past, a part of history. We have a great tradition of them to look back at.

However, at our baptism we are each called to be priest, prophet and king. And as church – because church is about the assembly, the people, not the institution or the building – we must imagine, dream and do together.

What is your dream? What actions will it bring forth in community, in hope and in faith?

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