“Restore My Sight”

Today’s Gospel (Luke 18: 35-43) always reminds me how dependent I am on the sense of sight. I am a very visual person. When someone in the house has lost something, they’ll ask me; I mentally scan the rooms of the house and can usually tell them exactly where to find that missing thing. I’m a voracious reader. I’m a musician. And I’m an editor, so I’m looking at words (and punctuation) all day.

Loss of vision is something I secretly fear. My grandmother suffered for several years with macular degeneration. She loved to read. Every Sunday she spent hours working on the New York Times crossword puzzle while her Sunday-dinner chicken roasted. Each day she prayed her way through a thick packet of prayer cards as she sat at the kitchen table. When she lost her sight, she was no longer able to do any of those things. I spent hours typing the prayers from those cards on my computer, setting them in a large font and printing pages to insert in a binder. That helped for a little while, but eventually she was unable to read at all.

"Restore My Sight" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS (Franciscanmom.com)
Via Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain

Soon after my grandmother died in 2002, one of the Secular Franciscans began to lose her sight to the same disease. I remember Jean attending each fraternity meeting, chiming in when it was time to state our prayer requests with the same words each time: “For good vision.”

Jean didn’t regain her ability to read the small print on prayer cards, but the wisdom she’d share at our meetings as we learned about living our Secular Franciscan vocation proved that she hadn’t lost all vision. Stripped of her ability to watch TV and read, Jean had keen insight about what really mattered.

Do I focus on what’s most important? Or do I let the things I see around me cloud my vision?

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Loaves, Fishes and Spiritual Writing

On the Ask a Catholic Editor Facebook page yesterday, Heidi Hess Saxton of Servant Books (Franciscan Media) observed,

one of the many important differences between journalism and spiritual writing: the ability of the writer to process events in a way that uncovers Truth. Journalists tend do “hide” themselves in the writing process. Spiritual writers “reveal.”

My immediate inclination was to conclude that I’m a journalist. I’m a “nuts and bolts” girl.

And when I heard the Gospel for today, I could relate to the Apostles, because I think many of them were “nuts and bolts” people too. Remember, one of them was a tax collector!

…it was already late and his disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already very late.
Dismiss them so that they can go
to the surrounding farms and villages
and buy themselves something to eat.”
He said to them in reply,
“Give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food
and give it to them to eat?”

I’d worry too! It’s the Martha in me–she was a “nuts and bolts” girl too.

Nuts and bolts are important. They hold the whole thing together. But sometimes I can be so focused on those little fasteners that I lose sight of exactly what they’re holding together!

DSC_0318The Apostles did that. How would they possibly feed thousands of people with what little bread and fish they had?

Martha did that. How would she ever be able to offer Jesus and his entourage of followers proper hospitality without her sister’s helping hand?

Jesus let the Apostles know that they needed to trust. He let Martha know that her priorities were misplaced.

There’s a time and a place for nuts and bolts. And there’s a time to let the details fade into the background so you can see the whole picture. I’m not just talking about writing here, either.

What can I do today to trust more–and let God take care of the details?

So Good to be Here

A big part of the Transfiguration story is the reaction of Peter, James and John, who were Jesus’ companions on the mountain that day.

James and John were not called the Sons of Thunder for nothing, by the way.

song of markThe song “So Good to be Here” from Marty Haugen’s cantata Song of Mark is an excellent portrayal of their characters. The tune reminds me of circus music, which fits in perfectly with the atmosphere they wanted to create by building tents and staying there forever. When I listen to this song, I picture these big guys drinking a toast to their plan to stick around the mountain with their buddy, Jesus.

It was good for them to be there, but the message of the Transfiguration is that you need to get ready to leave that isolated place and take the message of Jesus wherever you go.

Three years ago, my children and I participated in a performance of Song of Mark. It was good to be there–an incredible opportunity to perform with amazingly talented musicians and vocalists. Watch, if you like–and think about the Transfiguration.

 

 

Exercise Your Freedom…While You Still Have Some

Whatever it takes to preach a homily that connects the Gospel of the day to the crisis of abortion and the Fortnight for Freedom, Deacon T at our parish has it. And then some.

fortnight-4-freedom-270x140-no-border-animatedOur parish is blessed to have three deacons whose faith very obviously animates and guides them, who are not afraid to keep it real and who speak simply from their own experience. Each deacon, of course, has different stories, different strengths, different gifts that benefit our parish.

Deacon T is an attorney who is well-read, well-informed and well-spoken. He is not afraid to discuss difficult topics from the pulpit.

He made me think of Pope Francis when he began his homily by stating that he didn’t have all his notes because his computer printer had broken–and that he was sure Satan was behind that technical difficulty. (But guess what, Satan–Deacon T managed without those notes, because the force of grace will always prevail.)

Deacon T spoke very plainly about the leading cause of death in our country. It is not car accidents, cancer or heart attacks. It is abortion, which kills more people each year than the “top 2 causes of death” put together. He had the numbers to prove it. He spoke about how our tax dollars pay for this–and how it is absolutely against what we as Catholics believe. He spoke about how, if we are to follow Jesus as he called us to do in this Sunday’s Gospel, we need to take action to prevent government actions like the HHS mandate that rob us of the freedom to live as we believe. He spoke about the tragedy of millions upon millions of lives lost, and how we do not know how those lives would have touched others.

If you didn’t hear about the Fortnight for Freedom at Mass this weekend or last, you can learn all about it here. I encourage you to pray, listen, ask questions, learn and find a way to get involved. It is our right and our responsibility to protect our freedom to live our beliefs and to defend the lives of the most vulnerable. If we do not protect our freedom, we will surely lose it. And too many lives have already been lost.

One Came Back

This is worth posting in its entirety. It’s Father H’s reflections on today’s Gospel and the basis for his homily. Father H, our assistant pastor, publishes these reflections in each week’s bulletin–which means he has them ready by 9 AM on Monday (impressive!)

The Word of God in the Life & Mission of Our Church
He was passing through Samaria and Galilee….He was met by lepers…one of them saw that he was healed…he turned back…he was a Samaritan. (Luke 17: 10-11;16)
Jesus is along the borders of two areas in the country. The Samaritans lived in one area. They were a despised and hated people by the rest of the country. Yet, it is the Samaritan, the despised one, who emerges as the ‘hero’ of the story. This is a complex story. Is Jesus speaking to a community’s deepest hatreds and painfully exposing them?
Certainly. This is also a story about two contrasting ‘faith traditions.’ The ‘nine’ in the story belonged to what they said was the ‘true faith.’ The Samaritan was regarded as affiliated to an ‘inferior-faith-tradition.’
The story follows in the heels of what we heard last week. The apostles ask Jesus to ‘increase their faith.’ Is the story about Jesus’ on-going discussion of the nature of ‘true-faith?’ Certainly.
Beyond faith and prejudice, the story is also about ways in which communities stigmatize and marginalize certain people. This aspect of the story hovers over the incident it describes. A clarification is in order. The more accurate description of the ‘ten’ in the story is ‘leprous persons.’ Leprosy, as we know it today, was first identified by Dr. Hansen in 1871. In the world of the Bible, a ‘leprous person’ could be any person afflicted with an unsightly skin condition such as ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, or ringworm.
One aspect of the story. It is about ten people in a deplorable human condition. They were stigmatized simply for who they were. Nine were of one ethnic, national, racial, and religious background. The Samaritan was of another background.
Did the nine, in some way, ostracize the Samaritan? Were they, sharing a common condition, able to overcome centuries of social animosity? Jesus thinks that they were not able to do so. He speaks of the Samaritan as a ‘foreigner.’
The Samaritan as ‘victim of victims?’ Maybe, in the story, when Jesus speaks of ‘wellness,’ He is speaking of deep-seated human divisions that are far more serious than being a ‘leprous person.’ The soul can be far more sick than the body. They did nothing to heal the breach.
Another aspect of the story. Jesus speaks of the ten as being ‘cleansed.’ The Gospels use three different words to describe Jesus’ healing work. The word used here gives us the English word ‘catharsis.’ Healing as a ‘cathartic experience?’ Perhaps a kind of healing of the soul or a healing of the spirit.
Another aspect of the story. Jesus instructs them to go to their priests. He is talking about a social system that insisted on the sole right to declare, sometimes arbitrarily, someone as ‘clean.’ Here is where the story can get a little subtle. Is Jesus challenging that system’s standards of ‘cleanliness?’ Is he saying: Go show yourself to them and they will see a new standard of judging these things is in place? Entrenched systems do not like to be challenged. Jesus is surely throwing
down the gauntlet.
Another aspect of the story. Where did the other nine go? Did they make a beeline back to the social system that once rejected them? Did they fail to see what really happened to them? They disappear from the pages of the Gospel. Is the reader/listener being asked to identify with the nine or the Samaritan?
Another aspect of the story. The Gospel is very careful to describe the Samaritan’s ‘return.’ Does his return imply that he was the only one who rejected one standard of ‘cleanliness-determination’ and accept the standards of Jesus?
Certainly. That word for ‘return’ in the Gospels suggests a person who has undergone a deep transformation in life, a change of mind and heart, and an approach to life from a new point of view. He is described as ‘praising God in a loud voice.’ That expression is used in the Gospels in stories where ‘demons’ are
driven out of a person. Without getting into ‘demonology’ in the Bible, suffice it to say that we are asked to imagine one ‘spirit’ leaving a person and another ‘spirit’ taking its place. He fell at the feet of Jesus. This is meant to impress the reader/listener with the depth of his self-renewal. His ‘worship’ of Jesus as the bearer of a unique revelation of God.
Jesus speaks of giving ‘thanks to God.’ The word for this in the Gospel gives us our English word ‘Eucharist.’ Thus, a ‘eucharistic’ thanks to God is everything that is implied or expressed in the response of the Samaritan to his ‘cleansing.’
The apostles asked for an ‘increase of faith.’ Jesus holds up a despised person as a model of faith thus offering still another aspect of an ‘increased faith.’

All of this got me wondering about something else, too. It is mentioned in the story that Jesus directed the ten newly-cleansed to go to their priests (for verification of their cleansed state.) Is it possible that the Samaritan who came back to Jesus did so because he considered Jesus his priest? Might that be the reason Jesus praised him and said that his faith is what had saved him.