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Archive for August, 2009

I’ve been thinking on and off about last Sunday’s Gospel reading, where a lot of Jesus’ followers left him after hearing some teachings they found difficult. When Jesus asked his closest friends if they would be leaving too, Peter said there was nowhere for them to go, that Jesus had the words of everlasting life.

Note that Peter did NOT say, “We don’t WANT to leave.” Imagine if what Peter meant by his response was that he was experiencing a strong urge to “head for the hills,” just like the others who left. Yet, despite the hardships that came with the call to discipleship, he knew in his “gut” that staying was what he “had” to do, even if it was not what he “wanted” to do.

Too often, I think, our consumer culture tells us that we should do whatever we want to do from moment to moment. The result? A fair amount of narcissism and self-seeking, to put it mildly from my perspective. It has been increasingly difficult for people to make good on lifelong commitments, whether this is to a spouse/life partner, religious life, etc. All such commitments carry with them hardships to the individuals involved, and it is difficult sometimes to make the decision to invest oneself in the effort to work through the hardships to come to a deeper and more mature appreciation of the commitment, especially if there is not similar resolve from the spouse/partner/community. With the headwinds of our culture buffeting us from all sides, telling us if something is not going to our satisfaction, we can throw it away and get a new one, it is no wonder that people these days find it difficult to make and be faithful to lifelong commitments.

I pray that as I continue to live my own commitment, I will continue to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus through the hardships yet to come. May it be so for you, as well.

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Wondering why the long silence? Well, just take a look at the view out the back door of my friends’ house in western North Carolina to see why turning on the computer was not an especially high priority this past week…

GassawayView

So, I do hope that I’ve not lost too many of my WordPress readers…my blog stats have been plummeting due, I’m sure, to the lack of any new content lately. If you are just finding this blog, welcome, and feel free to participate in our conversations…my intention is to have rich conversation, rather than a series of monologues.

What was I doing in NC? A friend of mine here in the D went with me, and we were blessed by the hospitality of my two friends who are retired physicians and who recently rebuilt a beautiful home on their property near the Nantahala Outdoor Center and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We went for walks or hikes every day, some more adventurous than others. I needed a little follow-up medical care from a procedure I had last week, which was provided very graciously by K, who used to be my primary care doc before she retired.

M and I designed a house blessing ritual at the request of our hostesses, but as I told them, the place was already blessed with their presence and great generosity.

I’ll put together a bit of a photo show once I get around to it. In the meantime, it’s time to gear up for the new semester. I have a new course, “Sensors and Actuators” to prepare, and that will take a lot of time, as will my duties as coordinator of our efforts to prepare our 3 undergrad engineering programs for their accreditation visit in Fall 2010.

But I did want to surface briefly just to let you know I’m back and will be doing the best I can to post at least a couple of new reflections every week. As always, if you have a topic you want to discuss and would like to use this blog as a forum for conversation, I’d be delighted to feature you as a “guest blogger.”

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This sounds like one of those philosophical mind puzzles like theorizing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, doesn’t it?

Daniel Berrigan, S.J, poet, peace activist, and Jesuit priest was once asked this question, whether faith resided in the mind or the heart. He replied that faith is rarely where your head is and rarely where your heart is. Rather, he claimed, “Faith is where your ‘ass’ is at.”

What he meant by that answer is that it is really where we put our bodies and actions, not what we think and feel, that reveals our faith. You might substitute “gut” for “ass” in this quote… Have you ever just “known” something deep in your gut, even if it defied rational logic or scared you half to death?

My experience of my initial call to religious life was a bit like that. There I was, finishing up my Master’s degree, in a pretty serious relationship, only half kiddingly telling people my long term goal was to be Chairman of General Motors (gee, I’m sure glad that plan never came to fruition…) So when a simple question from a friend about religious life caused me to go weak in the knees, it drew me up short.

My mind told me, “But I’m an engineer, Steve and I have been talking about marriage, this doesn’t make sense!” My heart told me, “Yikes! What do you really want from me, God? The nun thing can’t really be what you want me to do – it’s too scary, and besides – I like to party and be on the wild side!” But deep inside, once I stopped rationalizing and running, I KNEW that this was what God was inviting me to. And it was my faith, that faith in my gut, that drove me to do what I knew I had to do, despite all the logical and emotional arguments I had lobbed at the very idea of a call to religious life. Yes, I did put my ass on the line, and it wasn’t my head or heart that led me to do it.

That was such a foundational experience for me, and the memory of it has served me well in similar moments of desperation or confusion, like realizing I had a problem with alcohol, or facing the truth about my sexual orientation. And every time I am willing to trust my gut, that place where God says to me, “Stay with me. I love you,” it leads me to a place of deeper integration and truth , often through chaos and pain, but isn’t that what the Paschal Mystery is all about?

Like C. S. Lewis said (from my previous post), “God’s compulsion is our liberation.”

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One of my Facebook friends and a fellow Gesu parishioner reminded me of another point Ron Rolheiser made on Monday night. Basically he was saying that the true measure of quality of life is not whether or not one is happy, but whether or not one finds meaning in life. I have to think about that a little more before I get completely on board with that.

I suppose it comes down to what one means by happiness… If it means the emotion I experience when I am with someone I love, or when a student finally gets a difficult concept, or when I see a beautiful sunset, then I agree with Ron. The warm, fuzzy feelings come and go, and so how I am feeling at some particular moment in time really misses the forest for the trees, I think.

I’m probably a bit more inclined to define true happiness as being in touch with a deep conviction that my life as God’s beloved has meaning and in the long run, no matter what happens, all shall be well. This means that despite hard times when I struggle with depression, illness, broken relationships, and all manner of hardship, I can still be “happy” at a deeper level if I can find meaning in my relationship with God and what I am experiencing. I think this could also be called “faith.” What do you think?

So, are you finding meaning in your life?

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God’s compulsion

How’s that post title grab you?

I attended a talk by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI tonight called “The struggle for a more mature discipleship.” I had an experience of deep recognition of how God works in my own life in listening to this man. So, for the next few days/weeks, you are going to have put up with several of my reflections on various things Ron said tonight, and what he will say in another talk tomorrow night. I hope you will join me with your own reflections. (If you are reading this on my Facebook page, I encourage you to leave your comments over on my blog so as to widen the conversation: https://nunsuch.wordpress.com.)

To explain the title of this post, here’s the scriptural context:

USCCB – NAB – John 6:53-68

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Ron said that behind Peter’s answer was probably an overwhelming desire to cut and run. The idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood must have seemed repugnant on both an intellectual and an emotional level. And yet, Peter’s faith that Jesus could be trusted, that he had the words of eternal life, won the day. Ron gave us a quote by C.S. Lewis, who despite his reluctance, converted to Christianity, writing that he had come to know that “the harshness of God is kinder than the softness of man and God’s compulsion is our liberation.”

Think about that…God has a compulsion to liberate us! And there’s no doubt…365 times in the Bible, we are told, “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid,” etc. We are to be free from fear. A religion that compels its adherents to do or refrain from doing under threat of consequences may produce results in terms of behavior, but does it nurture an alive and mature faith that does the right thing out of love for God and neighbor?

Yes, things were much tidier in those days when faithful Catholics were afraid to miss Mass on Sunday for fear of dying with an unconfessed mortal sin on their souls. And it is true that we do not always carry our freedom well, often forgetting the responsibility that comes with it. Things get very messy as we struggle to come to a more mature way of wearing this freedom that God is compelled pour out on us. The question is how we can love each other through those growing pains of coming to a mature adult faith, with compassion, not judgement.

I don’t know about you, but God’s not finished with me yet. I’m still a “work-in-progress.”

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