Are you at the front of the line?

All of us have had to deal with long lines and crowds. It might be waiting in line for an amusement park to open, or registering for classes, or those crazy early morning Black Friday sales, or maybe general admission to a concert. Sometimes in these moments, we have to be a little ‘aggressive,’ a little ‘pushy.’ Not rude, not entitled. But we’ve waited long enough. It’s our turn at the front of the line.

Especially if it’s for our family. Anything to do with gifts, medical bills, safety, child care – over the years I’ve learned that no one else will speak up for my family unless I do.

In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be first in line for spiritual things. Both Jarius, the synagogue official, and the woman with the hemorrhage in today’s Gospel, are a little pushy. They need to get to the front of the line.

For them, it’s literally life or death. They don’t care about the crowds, the risks, the possibility of being rejected publically. They just want to be first in line, in that moment, to be healed.

When my daughter hurt her knee a while back, she came to us and told us that something wasn’t right. We took her to a doctor, set up an appointment for the MRI, did everything we could to take care of her needs. But if my daughter had never said anything – if she just kept to herself, content to let things be the way they were – no healing would have taken place. We couldn’t have helped her.

It’s the same with our relationship with God. We need to move to the front of the line in order to be healed. It might be physical healing, or accepting our physical limitations. Maybe it’s a money situation, a bad loan, and all the stress that goes along with that.

We can ask God to heal someone we know, someone we volunteered with, someone homeless, or an immigrant who feels very confused right now. That’s how healing begins. In prayer. Before Christ.

Ancient medicine didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have, but they knew about healing. One of the common words for illness in the first-century world was the Greek term astheneia, which meant a “lack of vital force.”

Healing was a transfer of vitality, of spiritual energy, from the healer to the one who needed healing. Christ promises each one of us that vitality. That’s the promise of the Eucharist.

Shouldn’t we all be a little eager to be reach out then, to be first in line, for that blessing? Do we believe the first line of our 1st reading from the Book of Wisdom, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”

Ours is God of life, of healing. Don’t be afraid to tell God what you need. He will answer you. “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”

What would you say, right now, if you could speak to Jesus at the front of the line? Knowing that God often works through not only healing, but also through what is not healed?

The woman in today’s Gospel got herself to the front of the line, and boldly reached out to God. Likewise, we need to reach out in faith with what we desire. Despite her shame, her fear, her doubt, she got the Lord’s attention. We need to do the same. We need to be first in line spiritually for not only ourselves, but everyone in our lives.

What will you ask Jesus, today, when you get to the front of the line?

 

Pilgrim journey.

St. Ignatius called himself a “pilgrim” and viewed his entire life as a pilgrimage. While we can view all of life as a pilgrimage, many people take time out of their regular schedules to travel as pilgrims to sacred sites around the world. This month we consider the idea of pilgrimage through stories shared by contemporary pilgrims….  (Click here to continue)

 

Fences

During the Second World War, a group of American soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France. A soldier was killed, and his comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield. They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines, next to a small cemetery, surrounded by a small fence. With their captain’s permission, they set out for the church. When they arrived, an elderly priest answered the door, and they asked if they could have one of the plots in the cemetery.

The priest paused and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow that here. You can bury him outside the fence, if you wish.” And so the soldiers dug a grave… and buried their friend… just outside the fence.

The next morning, these same troops were suddenly issued new orders, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye. But when they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite. Tired and confused, they finally knocked on the door of the church, and they asked the priest if he remembered where their friend was. “It was dark last night and we were exhausted,” they said. “We must have been disoriented.”

The old priest paused for a bit, then said. “I have a confession. After you left, I could not sleep. I went out early this morning… and I moved the fence. He’s in the cemetery now.”

Sometimes, in order to the right thing, we all need to move a few fences. Maybe it has to do with our stuff at work, or our health, or confronting someone we’ve excluded from our lives… but we all have moments where we know “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.” But just like that elderly priest, God has big plans for us. We just need to trust Him in our difficult and awkward situations.

And maybe that’s what’s behind today’s Gospel. Once again we see the Jewish authorities — as well as Jesus’ family — not willing to move a fence. How can He drive out demons? What do you mean He’s ‘healing people’? He’s out of His mind! That’s not how things are done around here. Jesus knows them, of course. He knows the obstacles. So perhaps we can say that Jesus is not permanently excluding his family… maybe He’s just waiting for them to move a fence. To see the Kingdom of Heaven in their midst. Just like us.

See, we know that committing to a relationship with Christ is hard work. And He never puts a fence in our lives that we can not move. Maybe we’re not welcoming at first either, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay there.

So, where are your fences? Someone needs you to be a listening ear because they are in a difficult relationship…. Maybe you’ll have to drive an extra 10 miles to give someone a ride home who you don’t really like… maybe it’s about going to Mass on vacation… a son or daughter needs to move back home because they got laid off.

We never know the graces and blessings God has in store for us when we decide to do the right thing. It may be hard at first, but just like that old priest, it’s never too late. To ask for forgiveness. To forgive. To visit the sick. Feed the hungry. To console the brokenhearted.

As a community of faith, we’ve had to move some fences before… like when we heard that God became one of us in the sinless person of Jesus. That He rose from the dead and is now seated at God’s right hand. That He lives within each of us through the Holy Spirit. That He gives himself to us (through his body and blood) in Holy Communion. That He destroyed death — not just for himself, but for us too. If you think about it, every one of those ideas were probably resisted at first.

A fence needed to be moved.

So… who is knocking at your door? What fences will need to be moved in your life? What is God asking of you today?

landscape romantic forest trees

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Yard Sale

“I’m devoted to yard and garage sales, and love to spend time with friendly strangers in scuffed front yards and oily, dim garages.  Here’s a poem by Matthew Brennan, who lives in Indiana, from his 2016 Lamar University book, One Life.”

Ted Kooser, United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (2004-2006).

Yard Sale

“There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful.”
—  Emerson, Nature

The renters bring out their greasy table,
End of the month again: It sags,
Weighted and warped like them, unable
To hold much more than glasses and rags.

Old clothes and rusty tools compete
For space with magazines they stole
From garbage bins behind our street;
Each shoe reveals a run-down sole.

A few come by, inspect, and leave,
Almost always with empty hands.
But when, at sundown, all things cleave
To slanted light, and when it lands

So rubber, glass, and metal glint—
And for a moment make you squint—
You’ll see our neighbors bathed in gold
As if their worth cannot be sold.

Matthew Brennan

Saving Nails

“My late friend, the poet and novelist Jim Harrison, used to tease me about the buckets of bent nails in my barn, which I planned to straighten on some rainy day but which only accumulated. Here’s a fine bent nail poem by Thomas R. Moore, from his new book Saving Nails, from Moon Pie Press. Moore lives in Maine.”   –Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate

Saving Nails

I strip the porch roof, pick out the used
nails, and toss the shingles down onto

a drop cloth, remembering when I shingled
my grandmother’s roof fifty years ago:

the tar smell, the brackets, planks, and
ladders all the same, but level now

with hemlock limbs instead of locust.
I lug four shingles up the ladder, kneel

and drive the old nails home, slide
another shingle into place, pound,

toes bent, knees creaking. Miserliness,
a friend jokes about the nails, but I call it

caring, thinking of the man who gave
us this land on the cove, the cottage, the boat-

house full of boats. The only time I saw
him he was at his work bench, a rich

man straightening nails, moving from
the bent can to the anvil to the straight.

 

 

Wind beneath your wings.

Once there was a bird who loved to fly. But one day, while she was high up in the air, it began to rain, and her feathers became so heavy that when she tried to land, she crashed and broke her wing. Eventually, she healed, but there was a problem. Every time she wanted to fly, something inside stopped her from leaving the ground. Day after day, her fear and anxiety held her down. She forgot who she was.

But one day, a strong wind came, caught her, and lifted her high into the sky. Terrified, the bird had no other choice but to open her wings.

And that’s when she remembered how to fly.

We all have moments like this in our lives. When we are frozen. When we forget who we are. Like when a bill arrives and you have no idea how you are going to pay for it.  Or, when someone at home has an addiction. Or we have to deal with controlling boss. Or when we forget to complete a school project.  Or a medical situation just drops into our lives, one that we never would have imaged we’d have to deal with. What are we supposed to do? We forget how to be happy. We’re overwhelmed. We have no idea what it means to ‘go in peace’.

But God remembers. And God gets to work.

Not by taking away our problems, our fears and anxieties. But by reminding us of who we really are. By being that strong wind that will life us up… just like that little bird.

That’s exactly what happened to Abraham in our first reading from Genesis.  We know the theological meaning here – a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus; a testimony to Abraham’s faith – but let’s be real: what was dinner like that night at Abraham’s home? Imagine his stress, his anxiety, his confusion when he looked into the eyes of his son. He must have questioned why that whole episode had to happen in the first place.

We’ve all been there. Struggling with God’s plans. Maybe it’s your Lenten journey this year.  The prayer, the fasting, the almsgiving. We might think: “Ugh. Here I am trying to make through today, and I’m also supposed to not eat meat, to be diligent in prayers, to give my money away to a charity.” Like that little bird, we’re frozen.  We know what we’re supposed to do, but we just can’t.

Abraham reminds us that God always has our best interests in mind. We need to remember and trust God through not only the blessing of what we can do, but maybe even more so in our greatest losses, our greatest disappointments, our broken dreams.

You can’t help but hope that the student marches in Parkland to protest gun violence are going to make a difference. That out of a horrible event, our nation will be changed for the better. The same with the Dreamers, as our Cardinal Cupich has spoken about quite a bit this week. Both reminders that God provides us the gift of hope in the moments of our greatest despair.

Maybe that’s why we read the Transfiguration in today’s Gospel. Our destiny, our “destination” – a peek into heaven. For just a brief moment, God’s provides a strong wind to get us in the air again. We see the promise of our own resurrection, our life in the presence of Jesus the Lord. He flew first, through death into new life. He showed us the way.

The sacrifice of Isaac happens at the beginning of Abraham’s life. Yet he is promised so much for doing what God asks him to do. Through his effort, the nation of Israel begins.

Imagine all the wonderful things God has in store for your life after you – like Abraham — face your difficult moments. To know that your problem is not the end of the story.

That’s’ the promise of Easter. That’s the reminder of Lent.

The great Billy Graham, who passed away this week, once said, “I’ve read the last page of the bible. It’s all going to turn out alright.”

May that be the wind beneath our wings this morning.

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