I Need You, Lent

I Need You, Lent

My bedroom is in a similar state as my soul.  Messy, cluttered, and kind of driving me insane.  The thing is both situations are entirely my fault.

Instead of hanging up my clothes, they have become a mountain covering my ottoman.  Generally, I forget I even have an ottoman and I’ve become increasingly convinced that most of the things in there mustn’t be very important if I never need to access them.  Stacks of unopened letters and papers I should file away add a bit of an overwhelming sense to a place I often use for refuge.  Boxes that need to be broken down for recycling, laundry that ought to be done, and stacks upon stacks of books make my bedroom chaotic.

My soul?  Pretty much the same situation.

There is a great deal of clearing out that needs to happen.  Scripture says to make a highway for Our Lord.  But first, I think I need a plow to come through.  So it is with a heart that loves simplicity yet finds itself attached to abundance that I eagerly head into Lent.

I need Lent.   Continue reading “I Need You, Lent”

Farewell to a Pastor

Farewell to a Pastor

Jesus and the prophets spoke to the people of their times in ways that enabled the listeners to understand.  They used examples and situations that were relevant.  Growing up on a sheep farm, the numerous references to sheep struck me as particularly insightful.  Many of my classes have heard stories of how sheep aren’t the brightest and how fitting I think that is in relation to humans.  Yet for all the ways that sheep seem dim-witted, they have some great qualities that make them endearing.

Sheep are communal beings and generally move as an entire flock.  It was rare that simply one sheep would slip through a defect in the fence.  If one had escaped, it was likely that multiple had.  I have several memories of trying to separate a couple of specific sheep out of the flock and their attempts to remain with the larger group.  Yet their desire to be in communion with others, in their simple animal way, is something that is roughly mirrored in humans.  Even as an introvert, I know I need to be in communion with others.  I want to be alone at times and yet I find an intense joy in sharing life with others, too.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

When the sheep would wander far out into the pasture, my dad would go to the gate with a couple of pails of corn, cup his hands to his mouth, and bellow, “Sheep!”  It wasn’t really a unique call in terms of words used, but his voice was unique to the sheep.  My brother could try to imitate it, but I remember going to the pasture on days I was responsible for chores and trying to yell in the deep pitch of my father.  Generally, they were unconcerned.  After calling and several enticing shakes of corn kernels in a bucket, they would lift their heads and begin to head in my direction.  As soon as my dad calls, they start running in his direction, at near full speed.  They know the shepherd’s voice.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)

The word pastor literally means a helper or feeder of sheep.  For years, I only referred to my priests as “Father.”  And there is admittedly a beauty in that.  I love the filial sense of love and respect that is found in the relationship between a priest and his people, a father and his children.  Yet over the past couple years, I have found the term pastor increasingly meaningful.  I used to equate it only with Protestant churches and their ministers.  However, pastor means shepherd and I know the importance of the role of the shepherd.

In a world that is chaotic, the sheep need a shepherd to speak through the noise.  For the past three years, I have had the great gift to be led by my parish priest, my pastor, Fr. John.  He is a priest of my diocese, but I found myself quick to claim a closer association with him if possible.  Not simply a fellow member of the diocese, he was my particular shepherd, the one leading my parish community.   Continue reading “Farewell to a Pastor”

The Good Thief

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  (Luke 12: 39-40)

Jesus compares His Second Coming to a thief coming at night.  As the Gospel was being proclaimed at Mass, I was struck by the phrase “he would not have let his house be broken into.”  Of the many ways Jesus could describe His Second Coming, He chooses at this time to say that He is like a thief who breaks into a home.  Obviously, the master of the house would want to protect himself against any thief forcing entrance into the house.  The immediate connotation is a negative one: be prepared so Jesus doesn’t break in.  What is the other option?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and also He is the door.  Entrance through His door means salvation.  But He mentions a thief and says that a thief doesn’t enter through the door but comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  So is Jesus like a thief or is He a door?

What about if He is actually both?  Jesus stands at our hearts, knocking, gently persistent, asking for entrance into the deepest recesses of our being.  We choose if we open the door to Him or not.  He waits, patiently.  Yet there will come a day when waiting is no longer an option, when our refusal to acknowledge Him will come face-to-face with the reality of Who He is.

Will you open the door for Him?  If not, He will not be kept out and He will find a way in, like a thief, stealing through the chinks in our armor, stealthily slipping into the cracks in our fortress.  Yet if Jesus came to give us life, how could He also come to “steal, kill, and destroy” like a thief?  To us in the midst of our sinfulness, the act of taking away our addictions, habits, and struggles will seem like thievery.  It may seem like it is killing and destroying us to be stripped of that which we have made to be our personal god.  An experience of authentic self-denial can help us see the death that must occur when we have not opened wide our hearts to Christ.

He will break into our house.

That experience of a break-in will be unique, but He daily breaks into our world.  He isn’t hiding, but He isn’t forcing us to acknowledge Him today.  He is breaking into my world through the sky filling with a sunrise palette.  He is breaking into my world through the student who insists on keeping a ten-minute running commentary during a surprise fire drill.  He is breaking into my world by placing me in difficult situations I never thought I would have to encounter.

I can recognize His breaking in, or I can pretend like it never happened.  He can be a door or a thief.  Either way, He will enter into my life, it is simply a matter of method and perspective.

And so we strive to let the Good Thief in through the Door.

The One who persistently calls your name, knocks on the door of your heart, and ushers you into an abundant life.

He will come again whether it be His Second Coming on earth or at our death.  We will encounter Him in His glory and realize, with total certainty, who He is.

Do you want the Thief or the Door?

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