Now I See

I think a lot of people will agree with what I’m about to say: As I grow older, darkness is not my friend.

Eight or nine years ago, my mother-in-law – who was a whippersnapper in her early 90s at the time, walked down her dark hallway to bed one night, ran into the ironing board she had forgotten was there, fell, and broke her femur bone. The good news is that she recovered and is getting ready to celebrate her 100th birthday in July. The bad news is, well, everything I said above, up to the good news part.

Darkness – and an awareness of what happened to Bill’s mom – is why Bill and I each keep a flashlight within easy reach by our bed so that we can click it on in the event we need to go to the bathroom. And we’re old, so that need arises often.

It’s rare that I fully understand the so-called theme of the scripture readings at the weekend Mass, but even I – as dense as a London fog on – yes – a dark night – understood that the theme this past weekend was light.

The Old Testament reading was the story of how God let his people know that David was his chosen King – the light of the Jewish people. The New Testament reading had the same theme. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul told the folks in Ephesus, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord……..Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

But the reading that really hit home was the gospel from St. John in which he tells the story of Christ bringing sight to the man blind since birth. As Jesus spat on the ground to make mud with his saliva, he told the blind man, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The man, who had been in the dark his whole life, suddenly could see everything, thanks to Jesus’ miracle. Jesus gave the man light because he IS light.

It made me think about all of the times that I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep because I begin worrying. Sometimes I worry about something specific – a health issue with one of our children or a problem one of our kids or grandkids might be having at work or school. Sometimes it’s more a general sense of doom. And I know you will all agree with me that THINGS LOOK WORSE AT NIGHT. I have literally spent hours worrying about something in the darkness, and when the sun rises, I think, “Really? I was so worried about that? It’s no big thing, really.”

Court and Kaiya enjoy the warmth and light of a fire at a family gathering.

St. John goes on to tell us that, upon the man suddenly being able to see, the Jews were beside themselves. They told the man that only God can perform miracles, and asked him how this mere mortal could make him see. Over and over again, the man told them he didn’t have a clue how it happened, but all he knew was that he had been blind from birth and now he could see. Maybe this mere mortal shouldn’t have been able to bring him sight, but he had. Because (say it with him) I was blind and now I see. Don’t get it. Can’t explain it. But there you have it. I couldn’t see. The dude rubbed mud in my eye and now I can see.

Just like the Jews, I always want answers to my questions. Why does Bill have Parkinson’s? Why does someone drive a car onto a bridge and kill people? Why do bad things happen to good people? It’s easy to blame things on God, just like the disciples at the beginning of the gospel when they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Sin wasn’t the reason for the blindness, Jesus explained to them. Good would come from the blindness. And that reminds me that no matter how dark things get, Jesus will always bring light to me if I believe and pray. Because Paul reminds us that Christ promised that he would give us light. So in the same way that our problems seem to diminish in the daylight, Jesus, who is light, will bring us strength when we accept that he is our light.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Follow Through

The other day I was at Walmart. You know, Walmart: The King of Customer Service. I was looking for something specific in the pharmacy, and because the Walmart Pharmacy area has aisle after aisle of products, I was not having any success finding it. A pharmacy employee walked by clearly headed Someplace Important (his break?), and I called to him and asked the location of the product. He literally didn’t even slow down, but kept walking and shouted back at me, “It’s on the aisle just after the vitamin aisle,” undoubtedly thinking, “My Cup-O-Noodles isn’t going to cook itself, Lady.”

Okay. I found the correct aisle, and yet it took me a very long time to find what I was looking for. I finally did. Hoo-rah!

imgresBelieve it or not, I thought about this situation when I heard the Gospel reading Sunday from Matthew. In the gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus was walking along beside the Sea of Galilee and came across, first, Andrew and his brother Peter, who were casting fishing nets, and then, two more brothers, James and John, also fishing with their father Zebedee. As Jesus passed them, he shouted out, “Come and follow me, I’ll make you fishers of men.” And so, they all did.

How much nicer it would have been if the Walmart employee had said to me, “Come and follow me, I will show you where your item is located.” There is, of course, no comparison to a Walmart employee demonstrating simple customer service and Jesus asking strangers to follow him and help change the world. Still, that invitation to follow me is welcome in times of trouble and distress.

I have often wondered, and frankly did as I listened to the story this time, if the men knew of Jesus beforehand, if they had heard his teachings, and that’s why they dropped what they were doing and followed him. Or was there just something so charismatic about Jesus that they followed without question? The problem with scripture readings, of course, is that they are snapshots. There is some context to this whole story that we must fill in ourselves. The priest/homilist pointed out that every story we know from the scripture makes it clear that the apostles weren’t crazy about their career choices. Scripture tells us about the frustration of empty fishing nets; the discomfort of rough seas; Peter, Andrew, John and James sitting around mending their nets, a mundane activity for sure. Matthew was a despised tax collector, and he couldn’t have loved that job. So perhaps they had simply heard about Jesus and thought to themselves, “What could it hurt? We can follow him and see what happens.”

As I listened, I also wondered just what Zebedee thought when his sons up and left him to pull in the nets by himself. He couldn’t have been very happy about his sons walking away. And then he had to go home and tell his wife that James and John weren’t coming home because they followed that crazy preacher. A few chapters later in Matthew’s gospel, he tells us that that James’ and John’s mother asked Jesus if her wonderful sons could be on his right and left when they were all in heaven. I bet she thought that was the least he could do after having taken her sons away from she and Zeb.

Nevertheless, follow Jesus, they did. And they may not have been the most reliable of disciples (betrayal, denial, doubt), but their decision to follow Jesus changed our lives as well as their own. Now it’s my turn to say yes to Jesus when he asks me to follow him every day of my life.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Evil

142198193.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeIt so happened that the gospel at Mass this past weekend as we near the season of Advent was St. Mark’s take on what Jesus said about the end times.

….the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Dang, that gospel – as well as similar words coming from St. Matthew, St. Luke, and let’s not forget the light-hearted Book of Revelation as written by St. John – scared the HELL out of me when I was a kid. Frankly, it makes me squirm even now as an adult. I used to get caught up in all of the predictions about end times until Bill reminded me that Jesus goes on to say But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Oh yeah. I’ll start using up the canned beans stored in my basement in preparation for the end of the world.

Despite becoming so mature, I will admit that I was struck by Mark’s gospel in light of the dreadful circumstances in Paris this past week. I wondered if and how the priest would address all of this in his homily. Is the world, in fact, coming to an end?

The priest who said our Mass retired from somewhere in Minnesota to the warm climes of Arizona and serves our parish during the winter months when the church’s population doubles in size. He is probably in his 70s with a gruff-sounding voice which belies his always wonderful and generally gentle homilies. But it became clear very quickly that he was PISSED OFF. He started off by saying should one of the ISIS members who terrorized Paris walk into the church, if he could make it back to him before he was gunned down by an AK47, he would punch the crap out of him. Not particularly priestly, but certainly an honest representation of the way many of us feel.

But he went on to remind us that it’s pointless to point fingers at God or wonder how God can let something like that happen. No one, said Father O’Neill, can truly understand evil. Probably not even the evil-doers themselves, who claim to terrorize in the name of Allah.

Father O’Neill never once used the word devil in his homily. Instead, he continued to use the word evil. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how I feel about the idea of a devil. It’s a concept my teeny little brain can’t wrap itself around. But I do know that evil exists in our world – incredibly, horribly, awful evil. But God didn’t shoot those people who went out to hear some music or enjoy a nice meal with friends or family. Evil human beings used man-made weapons to do their evil deeds. And there has been evil in our world since Adam and Eve. The Paris attacks — and all other evil in our world — are not sure signs of the end of the world. Only God knows when that will be.

Father said perhaps God is testing our love, both for Him and for our fellow human beings. “But if I could,” said Father O’Neill looking up at the ceiling and heaven beyond, “I would definitely ask the Holy Spirit to stop the testing.”

Me too.