Tag Archives: Transformation

God hates who?

(Today I repost something that I wrote for this Sunday in 2010. Today’s Gospel story about Zacchaeus is one of my favorites.)

There is a group of people, a worship community actually, that goes around from city to city, town to town, even leaving the country to go abroad to preach their message of God. You might see them in certain cities, near schools, in parks. Very, very often they show up at military funerals.

It is hard for me to even use them as the launchpad for this post, so I won’t call them by name or link to them. Their signature sign and chant might point out to you who they are – and even then, I present you with a parody of their sign.

Do you find it hard to conceive of God hating anyone or anything? It seems antithetical to all that our Church teaches us about the Lord. And even if God was displeased, do you think that God would encourage us to call people names?

In the first reading this week, from the Book of Wisdom, we hear this (emphasis mine):

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Yes, God loves all things that are and loathes nothing that God has made. Our God is a lover of souls and God’s imperishable spirit is in all things.

All things. That is the inherent dignity of each and every human person… No matter what.

In the second reading, a letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul offers the reminder:

…not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

God hates who?

Again, so many claims can be made in the name of God, but we can’t be thrown off or alarmed by what is not of God. Yet we are given so many conflicting messages about how we are rejected by this all gracious and loving God that is is hard to not be “shaken out of (y)our minds” at times.

Of course God reaches out to us and through Jesus Christ offers us new life. And yes, response to that outreach makes some demands upon us to conform to the life Jesus gives us. The love of God is not conditional and it is very hard for most of us to really internalize and appropriate that in an integrated way. The only condition is that we respond and be transformed. God’s love is always there, our choice to be in that love is our own condition.

God hates who?

Earlier today I watched a video by Father James Martin, SJ.

In this video, Fr. Martin was reminding our LGBT brothers and sisters, who feel very rejected by organized religion in general, and whose lives may be at risk, that we are all beloved. I liked that in this video he said that Jesus was “always inviting people into community.” That’s kind of where we are headed with today’s Gospel.

In today’s Gospel from Luke we are treated to a compelling parable about Jesus and Zacchaeus. It seems that Zacchaeus was not just any tax collector. He lived in Jericho, a pretty rough and tumble town by many accounts, and he was one of the most reviled tax collectors there. That is quite a designation, the most hated of those who are hated. Not only did he collect taxes, he was quite wealthy himself, perhaps because he was collecting some taxes of his own. He seemed to serve not only the occupier, Rome, but also himself as he skimmed off the top. Who knows exactly what happened – what we know is that he was a real outsider.

Now it appears that he was short and as such, he had to climb up a sycamore tree in order to even see Jesus that day. An aside, Fr. Pat mentioned this in his homily – the prophet Amos was the dresser of Sycamore trees and Amos brought a message of repentance. In any event, Zacchaeus did seem determined to see Jesus, so he scrambled up that tree. And Jesus – being Jesus – did not say “God hates tax collectors,” nor did he wave any signs. No, he simply looked up at the right moment and said,

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”

This is not a casual “let’s get together” remark but an imperative. Jesus says he must stay at Zacchaeus house. Now people are unhappy because not only is Z an unpopular guy, he is thought of as a real sinner.

God hates who?

Here is Jesus – calling Zacchaeus by name and insisting that he stay at Zacchaeus house. That’s a pretty big deal and not done lightly – God knows your name, you have been called by name.

God hates who?

Of course, the good people of Jericho – you know, the ones that follow all the rules – are scandalized…. Once again Jesus does the unthinkable, he calls the outcast into the light. Imagine that, instead of Jesus going to the most upstanding citizen’s house he does the opposite by interacting with the man that Jericho loves to hate by getting him out of that tree.

After scrambling down the tree, Zacchaues does what? He makes good. His transformation is set into motion. He offers restitution and fourfold restitution at that. Can you imagine Bernie Madoff or someone like that saying that not only would he repay the people that he frauded, but pay them back at four times the rate?

Jesus is glad to point out what this means:

And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

This man too is a descendant of Abraham. Jesus has come to seek and to save what was lost and once again, Jesus has done so.

God hates who?

Perhaps the next time we are about to revile someone – a relative, a friend, a neighbor, a politician, a societal outcast, a person of a different orientation, a person of a different faith or of no faith at all, we should stop and consider the parable Zacchaeus.

And then we might know that it is Jesus calling our name, asking us to come down quickly, demanding to stay at our house, asking us to be transformed.

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St. Edward’s and the Journey of Faith by Anne Wasielewski

Prison_new_3Parishioner Anne Wasielewski has generously agreed to share some of her faith experiences with us today. If you read yesterday’s post from parishioner Don Wilson, you will note that they have the shared experience of being in the REC prison ministry. This essay, as does Don’s work, certainly reminds me of who gets changed when we serve others. We are grateful to Anne, and to Don – and to all who offer their words on these pages. (Interested, please let us know!)

My journey of faith is a long one. I started to question my faith in the seventh grade. Though my father was a devoted Catholic, and could debate theology, it seemed he was always working, and was never home. The formation of my Catholic Christian faith was left to my teachers at my parochial grade school I attended and my mother. I loved my mother very much. The only problem was that my mother seriously doubted her faith in God. These doubts were conveyed onto me, and reinforced by my circle of friends who, like me, were trying to find their way. This was all occurring during the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, when there was a lot of changes occurring in society at that time.
By the time I entered the 9th grade at a Catholic High School, which my father worked even longer hours in order to afford the tuition, I was not attending Mass. I did not even attend Mass on Christmas or Easter. God and Church never entered my mind or world.

When I was 20, I remember vividly a dream in which Jesus appeared to me and said, “You will be okay.” I awoke the next morning thinking this was very strange. I never thought of Jesus, so why would I dream of Him? I knew, for some reason, I had to share this dream with my father. I remember my father gently saying God works in mysterious ways. My father went on to say that being a Catholic can be very difficult, and that I would have to leave my present lifestyle and embrace a life centered on God and faith. I remember thinking, like St. Augustine, that I was not ready or willing to give my lifestyle.

I happily continued on, never really thinking about God. I graduated from a Catholic college, and much to my mother’s happiness and relief, I married and settled into suburbia. Despite deliberately shutting God out of my life, God blessed me with a wonderful husband and two beautiful children.

I dutifully had my children baptized in the Catholic Church, and made sure that they received all of the required sacraments. I was taking my motherhood ministry very seriously. I thought I was truly content with my life. Yet something was missing. I asked myself, “What could it be? I have a beautiful family, a beautiful home, and a good job. Why then, do I feel that I am not complete?”

I started to attend Mass at St. Edward’s on a more regular basis. Yet, I still felt that something was missing. In the late summer of 2007, after Mass at St. Edward’s, I picked up the bulletin. This time I actually read it. I noticed an informational meeting on Small Faith Groups was going to be held one evening in the chapel at St. Edward’s. The presenter was going to be Sue Karpovich. I thought, just maybe, I will go and hear Sue talk about this faith sharing group. As I really did not know anyone, I mustered up the courage to attend Sue’s presentation. Immediately, I was drawn to Sue’s warmth. I guess Sue sensed that I did not belong to any Faith Sharing Group, and invited me to be part of her group. In addition to meeting Sue, I met two other wonderful women – Karen DiPalma and Fran Rossi Szpyclzyn. In hindsight, God brought these three women from St. Edward’s into my life, as they were the ones who gave me the courage to truly start my faith journey back to God.

My daughter, Lauren, and I also became involved with the Youth Ministry at St. Edward’s as Sister Rose would not take no for an answer. I was beginning to feel a sense of God’s community. Lauren and I also became involved in the Emmaus Project through St. Edward’s and the United Church of Cohoes. Through this last ministry, God blessed me once again by bringing Kathy Masucci into my life. At the time, I had no realization of the importance of Kathy’s role in my faith transformation.

By now, I am attending Mass every weekend, and am thanking God for all of His blessings. Last January, I was reading the bulletin, and there was information about the REC (Residents Encounter Christ) Ministry. The contact person was Kathy Masucci. I knew I would be seeing Kathy the following Saturday at the United Church of Cohoes. That Saturday afternoon, I asked Kathy about the REC Ministry. It was as if Kathy knew I would be asking her at REC. She just happened to have the paperwork for me to complete for this ministry. Everything was done. I was all set. I inquired as to where the REC retreat will be held at? Kathy responded the retreat will be at Coxsackie, which is a maximum security prison for men in Greene County. Really? I thought, okay, I made the commitment to attend. I will only be participating for a few hours, and then I am done.

To be honest, I did not know what to expect. I cautiously told a few close colleagues, and my family. Their responses were unanimous. Everyone thought I was crazy. One attorney I work closely with, and I consider to be liberal, told me that ”I will never change these men.” I replied that I was not going to Coxsackie to change anyone. I prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide me on my next faith journey.

Coxsackie Correctional Facility

Coxsackie Correctional Facility

The day of the retreat arrived. I remember being very calm and at peace that morning. I arrived at Coxsackie. To say Coxsackie is a large, imposing facility, would be an understatement. The facility is surrounded by steel fences with electric barb wire on the top of the steel fence. A correction officer, with a high powered rifle, is standing guard in the tower situated by the electric barb wire fence. Yet, for some unknown reason, I felt drawn to enter a place I have never dreamed of entering. A calm, confidence came over me. Our group entered the facility, and heard a slam of heavy steel gates behind us. Not once, did I have any second thoughts. I knew, “I would be okay.”

After walking through the magnetometers, our group was led down a long, dark hallway. Was I apprehensive? No. I was feeling a sense of joy! Our group was ushered into a large gymnasium, which served as the dining hall for the retreat.

I don’t think I can articulate the transformation that took place as I entered the gymnasium. The room was filled with both the REC Ministry team and inmates. To witness these men praising God through music, song and their personal witness testimonies, was a life changing event. I felt the genuine presence of Christ that day at Coxsackie. To witness these men’s genuine faith (many who are serving life sentences with no parole) is truly a testimony of God’s forgiveness, not only for these men, but for forgiveness for me.

I always said I never could be a disciple and spread the Word of God. My afternoon at Coxsackie changed that. Through my testimony, I have brought two other people into this ministry.

When the attorney I work with asked how the retreat was, I replied, “You were right. I did not change the men. The men, through God’s grace, changed me.

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Advent Reflection – December 13, 2012 by Charles Burre

Advent Reflection for December 13: A Threshing
by Charles Burre

ThreshingIsaiah 41:13-20; Psalm 145:1, 9-13; Matthew 11:11-15

I can relate to Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord would make His people a threshing sledge that would separate the wheat from the chaff. As I continue on my faith journey, many of my long-held opinions and beliefs have crumbled and been dispersed in the wind due to the witness of Christian people whose beliefs and actions are closer to the teaching of Jesus.

I grew up as a Protestant in the “red-state heartland.” I adhered to, and nurtured, a conservative-Republican philosophy up until the last ten or fifteen years. In my twenties I read all of William Buckley’s books as well as National Review every fortnight. What attracted me to these writers, in addition to their generally Republican-sounding views, was that they often brought faith and theology into the discussion. In matters of world affairs and wars, I always supported the actions of our nation.

In the last several years, I have found myself re-examining many of these viewpoints and listening more and more to the views of other leaders and writers, people whom I used to write-off as naive, “bleeding-hearts” or having self-centered political ambitions.

Perhaps the sharpest of the threshing sledges that has been pounding on me lately has been Chris Haw’s book From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart. While born a Catholic, Chris joined an Evangelical mega-church in his teen years, during which he found a faith-community that instilled in him the message of the gospel and caused him to become involved several social causes. However, he saw that many of his evangelical brethren did not always practice what Jesus preached particularly when it came to the matter of national revenge after 9/11. Chris has devoted his life and resources to improving the most neglected of neighborhoods in Camden, NJ. There he began worship in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and came back to sacramental union with the Church. He has delved deeply into church history and theology throughout his life and ministries and has written one of the most cogent apologies for Roman Catholicism that I have ever read. I wondered how he had time to do this, but then I’m sure he didn’t let the worldly things that have occupied so much space in my life do so in his.

Earlier this year I received another threshing as I listened to A Good Man, the biography of Sargent Shriver by his son Mark. Mark tells the story of the faith of his father, which motivated him to accomplish so much for the underprivileged in the world: e. g., the Peace Corps and the many civil right causes which he championed . I thought to myself: years ago I would have said; “These are just a bunch of Kennedys trying to gather a few more votes.” Having listened to this book, however, I have come to realize that people like Shriver are truly trying to live as Jesus taught.

I don’t mean to espouse one political philosophy or one faith over another here. There are certainly many sincere people across the spectrum working for the good of all or for what they believe to be God’s will. What I think is important is for us to critically evaluate our beliefs, actions, and their consequences against what Jesus taught. We need to be willing to listen to rebels like John the Baptist and “hear with our ears.”

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