May’s Way…

It is interesting how people come into our lives who, at times, remind us of those who went before us. A number of years ago, I recall feeling amazed one day as I realized how many women named Mary had recently come into my life. It was as if a whole army of warm, welcoming, faith-filled Marys were suddenly in my life. They were from different walks of life, but all named Mary, and all of them brought a smile, wisdom and a sense of peace with them.

As I sat in awe with this realization, tears came to my eyes and I thought of my Auntie May, named Mary at birth. The first Mary I ever knew and loved with all of my heart. She was a fixture of love from as far back as I can remember…gentle and faith-filled.

Auntie May…I can still see her beautiful face and hear her wise, calming voice. “Hi doll,” together with an embrace that felt so warm and loving. I can still see her beautiful fingers. She would take my hand and hold it between hers as we exchanged greetings. I could feel the love and care in her hands, the same hands that made such wonderful food—kibbe, cinnamon twists, and so much more.

I remember sitting, as a young child and as I grew in age, listening to her and the other adults speak. She spoke with such clarity and with a passion for all that is right and just, for all that is good and true. She was so knowledgeable, but at the same time so down to earth. She was a very interesting person, not to mention her sense of humor; and though she was gentle, she could be stern, too. She knew when to speak softly and when to speak more firmly and with greater conviction. She had such an amazing spirit…striking…so nurturing and life giving.

Auntie May, and all the Marys who followed, reminding me of all that was and all that is. It is fascinating how God sends people into our lives to help us or challenge us, as well as for us to help…sometimes simply by being ourselves.

There is a saying that the best thing one can do is to be one’s true self. That is, as one becomes more and more authentic, she or he makes a difference simply by being. There is an energy or a vibe, when being true to oneself, that extends without effort as we go about day to day activities.

As layers are peeled back and one uncovers or moves closer to her or his true self, we are summoned or we gravitate toward our true calling or vocation(s) within our life and within each situation. Connected to that call, to the source of that call, and continuing to remain faithful to it, the energy or the spirit remains, flowing through and radiating out with benefit for all with whom we interact.

So, while my Auntie May, may have been different things to different people throughout her life, she was true to herself and the love, spirit and energy that she brought to each thing she did and each role she fulfilled, remained the same. What was even more special was that she realized it was not hers to keep and that it could only continue by her letting go and letting flow as she went about her way.

A_White_Chrysanthemum

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” – St. Catherine of Siena

 

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A Regular Joe…

Joseph, the carpenter, faithful servant of the Lord, took Mary into his home as his wife and named his son Jesus.

Joseph, faithful servant of the Lord, took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt in the middle of the night, remaining there until the appointed time then returning to Nazareth.

Joseph, faithful servant of the Lord, husband of Mary, the mother of God, earthly father of Jesus, the Son of God, lived his faith.

Joseph, faithful servant of the Lord, did all that was spoken to him by the Angel of God.

St. Joseph, the patron Saint of the Universal Church, unborn children, fathers, workers, travelers, immigrants, and a happy death. We do not know much about St. Joseph. Not knowing much though is intriguing, because Joseph could be any of us—a “regular Joe” capable through his faith and God’s grace of facing the challenges of his life and the times in which he lived.

Perhaps, the best place to start though is with what we do know about St. Joseph. We know that he was a carpenter (MT 13:54-55). However, according to scholars the Greek word “Tekton” would have been used to describe Joseph, meaning that he was a craftsman or contractor; someone very skilled at working with wood, stones, and metals. It is also likely that he traveled quite a bit to seek work.

We also know from Bible verses, that St. Joseph was a husband (the husband of Mary the Blessed Virgin) and he was the “foster” or earthly father of Jesus. These two pieces of information, along with the fact that he was a working class man not only make St. Joseph relatable, but they also suggest he was a person of great faith, courage and wisdom. Think about it…the husband of Mary, the mother of God, and the earthly father of Jesus, the son of God.

From the passages in the Bible, we can also see ways that Joseph’s life and his choices exemplify those of someone striving to be faithful to God. We know that he had dreams in which he was visited by an Angel of God telling him to not be afraid to marry Mary (that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit), a dream to flee to Egypt, and then to return from Egypt. We know that Joseph listened, trusted and did as the Angel of God instructed in each case – Joseph married Mary, named his son Jesus, fled to Egypt, and later returned to Nazareth in Galilee all upon the instruction of the Angel of the Lord in dreams.

We can also see wisdom in the spiritual work of mercy exhibited by Joseph in bearing patience against wrongdoing or perceived wrongdoing. Mary, his betrothed, is found to be pregnant, yet they had not had any relations yet. We can only imagine what Joseph’s first thoughts to this news were. I doubt anyone would have trouble understanding if he was livid and decided to leave Mary. Also in that day and time in history, it would have been well within societal expectations for Mary to be stoned to death. Yet, here we have Joseph, deciding to quietly divorce Mary, not wanting her to be harmed. Despite what must have seemed and felt like a “betrayal,” he saw it in his heart, to show mercy and compassion. Joseph’s response, even before a visitation from the Angel of God, is remarkable and seems one only possible by someone very prayerful and inspired by God.

It leaves one to wonder, how am I able to show mercy when I am wronged? How am I able to be patient and to persevere? How can I, how can we, use St. Joseph as a model?

In each of the situations described in Scripture, Joseph dies unto himself, sacrifices and cooperates with God’s will. He shows openness to and focus on God’s will at each point. He was able to survive and make it through difficult and challenging circumstances such as the journey to Bethlehem with an expecting Mary. The journey to Bethlehem would not have been an easy one. Then there is the impending birth of Jesus with nowhere to stay, the flight to Egypt, the journey back to Nazareth and beyond.

How can we have the faith and patience of Joseph? How can we, like Joseph, recognize and accept that things happen in God’s time, not according to our time, and to remember that God is faithful to those who are faithful to God? Do I remind myself of the ways that God has been faithful to and patient with me along my journey so far? Do I allow past experiences to help me to remain patient and faithful, and to continue to trust in God and in God’s timing?

Joseph wasn’t given explicit plans or an outline of all that would happen in the dreams he had. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, we are told that Jesus is laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. We are also told at the presentation of Jesus in the temple that Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that Jesus would be glory for God’s people and that Mary’s heart would be pierced. It then says, “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.” Joseph and Mary didn’t know all that was going to happen.

When we look at Joseph, he was just given a basic directive in his dreams…take Mary as your wife…flee to Egypt. He listened and let God lead him. He had faith in God, faith that we can only assume grew with each event in his life and most especially through the birth of Jesus and all that transpired in the time after his birth.

Martin Luther King said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” That’s the hard part, the “not knowing.” If we knew all the details of what was going to happen, it might be very easy to be patient, to let go of wrongdoings and to trust in God and in God’s plan.

Faith…trusting even when we cannot see the next step…trusting that it will be there when it is time to take that step. Waiting until it is there, taking direction from God and acting once the step appears and the way is made clear. St. Joseph, from what we know of him, did all of this.

It is more likely than not, especially at that time in history, as a father, Joseph not only provided for and protected his family, but also led his family in the observance of prayer and religious custom. We read in Scripture, “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.” (Lk 2:41)

With what we know of Joseph, it is not a stretch to imagine him as a very prayerful person.

For Joseph, the beginning of the journey that would lead him to emerge fully into who God created him to be and to fulfill his part in God’s plan, started with a dream, or a desire, long before the first dream, he had and that we read about in the Bible. The journey started with him saying “Yes” to letting God lead him, and continuing to say “Yes”, letting God continue to lead him all along the way. How can I, how can we, do the same?

StJosephJoseph the Carpenter rendered by Georges de La Tour

Throwing Stones…

Stones

“Let the one among you who is without sin,
be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:7

In the world in which we live, the above Bible verse has come to mean, to many people, it is not Christ-like to criticize wrongdoing. Is that interpretation accurate though? Is that really how Christ lived and taught? Is it true?

It is interesting how the truth is often twisted and how, throughout history, the truth, and speakers of the truth, have often been frowned upon. In the Gospel passage of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus, champion of truth, honesty and integrity, is put in a position where the authorities (the scribes and Pharisees) are looking for a reason to “take him down” so to speak. They see Jesus as a threat. If the truth becomes known…if their manipulation and ways of holding down and misleading the faithful become known, the faithful will no longer support them and their authority will fade away. This possibility makes them focus even more on trying to suppress or manipulate the truth. They are not open to anything other than efforts to hold onto their kingdom, no matter how that might affect the faithful.

While the scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus into going against Mosaic law, so that they can arrest him and eventually do away with him, Jesus turns the tables on them. Jesus knows that their motivation is self-serving; they are not concerned about the spiritual well-being of the woman they have brought before Jesus. They are using her, and Mosaic law, to try to get what they want. They are not pointing to the law for the purpose of which the law was made and certainly not for the well-being of the woman or the larger community.

So how does Jesus respond? He calls the scribes and Pharisees attention to the fact that they are not without sin; their hearts are not pure, and they slither away. The woman is left standing alone with Jesus.

While Jesus does not condemn the woman, he does hold her accountable and tells her not to sin any more.

Oftentimes, we can confuse holding someone accountable or to the truth as being judgmental. However, we need to be able to judge situations and, at times, we are called to speak the truth, even if that means it may be in conflict with another or requires holding another accountable.

In a scripture passage prior to the passage about the woman caught in adultery, Jesus says, “Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him. Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You are possessed! Who is trying to kill you?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I performed one work and all of you are amazed because of it. Moses gave you circumcision—not that it came from Moses but rather from the patriarchs—and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man can receive circumcision on a Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I made a whole person well on a Sabbath? Stop judging by appearances, but judge justly.” (John 7:18-24)

If we come back to the woman caught in adultery, we see that Jesus doesn’t condemn her to death, but he does make a judgment. He tells her to sin no more. He tells her to stop.

When we look at our own lives, like with everything else, we need to follow Jesus’ example. We shouldn’t throw stones, but we should judge justly. When we see people doing wrong, we are called to speak the truth and to stand up for what is just. That is a big part of carrying one’s own cross…of being Christian.

 

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area,
and all the people started coming to him,
and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman
who had been caught in adultery
and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him,
“Teacher, this woman was caught
in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.
So what do you say?”
They said this to test him,
so that they could have some charge to bring against him.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him,
he straightened up and said to them,
“Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her,
“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” – John 8:1-11

Taking Paul’s Advice…

I saw this quote from Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian, the other day. I was contemplating what to do about a particular situation and all of a sudden, there was the answer, this quote, “Go where your best prayers take you.”

As I read the words, a smile came across my face. A reminder just at the right moment, and while the words may seem so simple or even obvious, I felt so grateful to see them and to be reminded of what I know through experience to be so true. I think most of us start out with the best of intentions and then along the way, we can get sidetracked or pulled away from the very place to which we started out.

It seems like it has been human nature, since the beginning of time, to want to be in charge, whether consciously or sub-consciously. Yet, I and many people I know, and know of, seem to agree, that being in a place of seeing oneself as being in charge, or the ultimate authority, can be a most dangerous place to be. Putting oneself at the top, in head and heart, seems to be a place that leads to chaos of one kind or another, more often than not. We can all probably point to many examples of such chaos in our lives and throughout the world.

“One of the most arduous spiritual tasks is that of giving up control and allowing the Spirit of God to lead our lives.” – Henri Nouwen

We can all probably also point to moments of joy and triumph that we’ve experienced ourselves or seen around us where the decision(s) seemed to be so guided by prayer rather than motivated by self-determination or self-preservation. This is not to say that decisions led by prayer do not also come with difficulty or challenge. Sometimes they do. However, when I turn my will over to God, putting prayer and listening at the top of the list, and asking God to help me to choose light and hope over fear, I find without fail, peace, calm and blessings in the midst of smooth sailing as well as in the midst of a storm.

PrayWithoutCeasing

St. Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing…”