20 April 2014

Be still, and know that I am God.

There’s a Garth Brooks song that has been rattling in my head throughout most of Lent.  The song is Belleau Wood, and it recalls a Christmas truce that took place spontaneously on Christmas Eve 1914, in the fierce trenches of World War I.  The event came to be known as the Christmas Truce, and stood as a poignant reminder of our humanity as soldiers of all sides joined in singing Silent Night. 
In the song by Garth Brooks, there is a line that says “Heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear.” Even when I first heard this song, as I zoomed down Front Street (in Midland) in my blue 1984 Z-28 Camaro, almost 17 years ago, I was struck by the profundity of those words: “Heaven is not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear.”  
Those same words came to mind early this Lent as I listened to a friend tell me about a very profound experience of resurrection that he had gone through with his son.  Listening to him, I was very impressed by how clearly he detailed this experience of Resurrection.  Then I was struck by the fact that all too often, the Resurrection is seen as a grandiose and distant example of God’s omnipotence, it is a moment of WHAM!, and a distant reality that took place a long, long, long time ago (like 20 years ago or something…)  And as I think about it, I can acquiesce that these thouhts are often true, but there is far more to the Resurrection than the resurrection.  Far from being an isolated incident a couple of millennia ago, the Resurrection is a truth which each and every one can glimpse at every moment of every day, a truth which is not revealed in someone’s Rising from the tomb, but through the love that we express, love rooted in Love.  This is where the song comes in, because while we hold the Incarnation, and the life, and the mission, death and resurrection of Christ as being historical events of long ago, they are realities that we can encounter on a daily basis, or to quote the song “Heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear.” 
Ok, so by now, there may be some who are still trying to figure out what I’m talking about (I don’t blame you).  As I see it, in our faith journey it is sometimes too easy to find reasons for a diminishing relationship with Love.  Even the Scriptures tell us of Jesus’ having to wake up the Apostles on more than one occasion.  I can almost hear Peter (in a groggy and whiney voice) “but Master, it’s late and we’re tired… boo hoo.” 
These things happen, and when as we throw sin into the mix, we start to become those things that we are not.  We slowly start to dig our trenches deeper, and deeper, and we become complacent with being where we are or we believe what others may tell us about mercy and grace, and God’s wrath.  The trenches, however, is never where life happens.  Jesus the Christ showed us this by rising from his own trench, and calling us to RISE from ours.  From those mistakes, those fears, those sins that have held us down and blinded us to the gift of life that is freely given to you and me!  Again, Heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear, and yes, that song about an incident that happened during one of the deadliest conflicts the world has ever seen, is appropriate, because ultimately, we are called by Love himself to stand up as dignified and beloved children of God (sometimes in a messy trench filled world) and join the chorus of voices which stand beyond the trenches and proclaim who we are in life, and in love!  You and I, each one of us, are called to recognize where have been, and to make amends if necessary, but then to get up and live! To live a life that proclaims to all exactly what it is that Love has done for us.  A life that proclaim that God not only took on flesh, but also has Risen from the dead A life that resounds with the truth that I have been made new, and my life has been given a worth that is far beyond any monetary price.  We are called upon to stop thinking of the Resurrection as an event of the past, to stop imaging what it must have been like and to live as children of the Resurrected with our entire heart, and mind and soul, and our being.  Just as those soldiers risked so much, and started singing a simple hymn, we are called upon to become a hymn of the Resurrection, because I have glimpsed it in my heart, and in my life.  Each one of us is implored to become who we are in Christ, no longer slaves, no longer servants, no longer people who imagine, or who dwell in the trenches, but people who live freely Love’s Resurrection.  We are to be the presence of Christ as we break the bread, and to be the healing peace as we reach out to others, we are to share with all, believer or not, a love that calls us beyond the trenches that divide us, and into a unity that is brought together in Love. 

The soldiers at Belleau Wood showed us this through their simple coming together in song, and my friend reminded me of this through his story, but Christ gives this to me through His resurrection, not something that happened yesterday, but a reality in which I am now!  He is Risen!  He is truly Risen, and I know His love!  Heaven is not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear, and Love, Christ, He has conquered fear!

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday. Am I really Ready?

I was driving earlier this week and kept thinking of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  I thought of all the different services that will take place, I thought of the prayer and reflection that will occur, and I hoped for myself, that I may be ready to begin this season.  But as I stop to think, I can't help but ask myself: "Ready for what?"  For a time of self sacrifice?  For a time of penance?  Or maybe for a time of growth?  Either way, the honest answer comes from a very human reaction.  I am not ready.  This isn't because I don't want to observe Lent, but because, quite frankly, I'm tired.  I'm exhausted (and not from partying too much!)  Of course it wouldn't kill me to give something up, and yes, sacrifice and penance are good for the soul, no matter what, but deep down inside, I'm just not ready, nor do I want to be ready, and perhaps this will be my greatest struggle throughout this Lenten journey.  Will I be willing to give my heart to God?  And in doing so, will I be willing to dispose myself to His will, as I once did so carelessly?  I don't know, and that is what scares me.  Will I fall into a trap of routine and dogma, of law and authority?  Or will I allow choose to accept myself in a manner different than how I was trained?  
As I think about this season, giving something up won't be the struggle, the real challenge will emerge from whether or not I allow myself to love, and to be loved.  This thought alone scares me, but maybe, that is where my Lenten time will lead.  Not in a chocolate deprived angst, but in a yearning that can only be satiated by something far greater than a simple loaf of bread, or can of Coke.  Someone Grander than I.  Either way, this Lent will be a season of purple meditation, a time of thoughtful prayer, and intentional walking, but maybe that is the purpose of all this, a time to call us back to a simpler way of being in which I, and all of us, will come to find that in each step, there is healing.  A healing which comes from the One who is far greater than bread, or power, or any empty promises to which I can so easily subscribe.  Ultimately, the journey will lead where I choose to allow.  I just hope, that as I go, I will know Light and grow to love Him again, as I once did.  Shalom. Know that you are loved and peace to you.  RL

24 February 2014

wetback. faggot. loser. one of those.

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything on my blog.  Perhaps I should keep it that way, but today, 24 February 2014, I read an article on the Huffington Post which speaks of a U.S. Senate candidate, Chris Mapp from Texas who stated that ranchers would be free to shoot “wetbacks” on sight.  The article then goes on to state that Mr. Mapp defends his comments by saying that it’s just the way people talk around here.  No, Mr. Mapp, we don’t.  And more importantly, we can’t.  These past few days, I feel as though I have been bullied again.  My Congregation sent me a letter reminding me of how childish I am.  They reminded me that they are under no obligation to care for me, and that in turn, I am the one obliged to obey them.  The letter also stated that I should really consider beginning the process of laicization (in which a priest goes back to being a lay person).  Again, No!  Maybe I’m being too sensitive, or maybe my vision is blinded by ignorance, but if there is anything that I have come to know more profoundly in the past few months, it is that in Christ, we are each call to love.  I know I’ve said this time and time again, but I don’t believe I can say it enough.  Ultimately, and especially as people of faith, we are called upon to love.  It is a love that makes us sensitive to the pain of others, it is a love that reminds me that words may not hurt, but the weight they carry can be a significant pain to have to live with.  Even now, and after receiving that letter, I was reminded of the hurt that bullies in the past placed on me.  Sure, they were just words, but what happens when one’s ignorance becomes a fierce weapon that inflicts unjust oppression on another.  Even last night, I received a phone call from a friend who told me that some brother priests of mine had labeled in a very negative way.  No matter what, the love that I receive in Christ is not a love that equips us with the armament of hatred and ignorance, but one which leads us to my brother or sister, to the fag, or the wetback, to the cracker or the leper, and invited me to extend a hand of love to them.  The beautiful thing is, that in doing so, instead of condemning and casting aside, we invite them to also extend their hand, and while we may not always see eye to eye, insofar as we are able to reach each other, we make a slight difference in this world.  In order to do this, however, we must recognize that no matter what position we are in, we cannot be judges or arbitrators of God’s love, it is freely outpoured upon all, and if for no other reason, that is why I must go to my brother or sister, because I have known great Love!  And no, I’m not perfect, but Love refines us, and in the end, we are made more who we are called to be, in love.  As always, know that I love you.  RL

30 January 2014

A collection of stories. A construction of DNA. Me?

For those who know me, you know that deep down, inside, I am a big nerd.  Some have even called me Sheldon, as in Sheldon Cooper, minus the supreme intelligence and plus a few extra pounds.  Either way, as the nerd that I am, I have grown fond of channel 123 on my Sirius XM radio.  This channel, aside from NPR and Entertainment Weekly, has gained a coveted place on my preset dial.  It is the Public Radio Exchange, and it is composed of a mix matched assortment of stories from all around the country, and the world.  I have grown to enjoy this station because of its eclectic mix of stories and topics.  Of everything I have heard, however, there is one thing that stands out.  Ironically, it isn't even a story, it is an ad for the station.  The concept is quite fitting with the station, and is quite simple.  It starts out with a young lady asking a simple question:  "Who are you?"  This alone is quite intriguing and thought provoking, and often serves as a springboard for a broad line of thoughts that can entertain me for a good while.  The rest of the ad goes on to ask "... are you a collection of stories?  Or DNA?"  In essence, yes and yes, but then, there is also plenty for me to think about in those two questions.  In reality, up until a few months ago, I knew exactly who I was.  I was Fr. Rick, I wore black and had a pretty tight schedule that I could swear by.  Things were quite easy, even when I had to be at the hospital at 3a.m.  But now?  Who am I?  I was  recently asked to participate in a local retreat that would be taking place this Spring.  I would serve as a support in the background and nothing more.  After word of this got out, I was advised against taking on this role.  For the good of those participating in the retreat, it was better for me to not help so as not to confuse the faithful by having this pseudo priest on the team.  Not wanting to get into a mess or worse, to cause a hindrance to the retreat, I chose to not serve.  All this being said, the question "Who are you?" has been rattling around in my head.  According to the Institutional Church, I am a priest "not suitable for ministry,"  to some of the workers at the company, I am "el pastor," or "padrecito," or just "boss."  I answer to all this, but in the end, I must confess, there is a sort of identity crisis that I am currently undergoing.  The reality of all this, however, and perhaps an important lesson that is becoming more evident to me, is that in our lives, as much as we may deny it, we need others to help shape us into who we are.  As much as I would enjoy living the life of a monk, I cannot, and will not find true life or myself in that solitude.  Of course, there is always room in silence to know a deeper truth, and silence is a necessary part of living a balanced life, but there is also that need to reach out to another.  This reaching out is evidenced  in the reaching out that Jesus did throughout so many of the stories we have become all too familiar with.  This reaching out, for him, was not just going to the leper and saying "hey, wanna hang out?"  no, it was a profound and challenging experience that touched on the question "Who am I?"  The leper, at that time, was an outcast, unclean, impure and unwanted, precisely the type of person who needed to be left alone and gotten away from, but even there, in the remote stretches of humanity, Christ became present.  Love reached beyond where love was supposed to reach, and in that action, we were forever to be challenged by our concept of who is deserving of love, or not.  Or maybe, I should say, that by Love reaching beyond the comfort zones of society, the unsuitable became suitable, an in your face reminder that Love cannot be contained, and that Christ must not be an excuse.  Either way, I am growing, and the more I am reminded that I am to be, the more I strive to love and to be love for others.  I cannot guarantee that I will do this always, but I certainly will continue to do my best to love, because in the end, whether an institution says that I am good or not, I am, because I love, and because I am loved.  And so, the journey continues.  As always, know that I love you.  RL.

17 January 2014

All you need is... ?

Working out at the pipe yard has been a different experience from the church which I served for so long.  The work looks different and may appear to be dirtier, but I have come to learn some very important lessons from the few months that I have been out here.  First of all, we can't do this alone.  At our company, there are people with all sorts of backgrounds, one in particular stands out in my mind.  He is one that has had a very troubled past, has had legal problems and has had confrontations with all sorts of workers here.  For a while, I considered him a pain to have to deal with and even suggested having him removed from the roster, luckily, I wasn't listened to and he is still here.  Instead, he was placed with a different worker and lo and behold, he is working differently, better.  To my surprise, he has taken well to working in this new team, and has adapted well to a structured and organized team in which he feels comfortable to work.  This has struck me, because no matter where we have been, or who we have been, we all need each other.  Sure, there are some of us who believe ourselves to be anti-social or strongly introverted, but even we need to interact with others, even if its just to remind us that we have B.O.  In either case, we are not meant to be solitary, nor are we intended to go through life alone and cold, this only leads to death, rather, as social beings, we are meant to go and take the hand of another, or at least a moment of their time, and to celebrate life with friends and family.  A second lesson that I have learned, is that you don't always have to be living the dream to be happy, sure it helps, but as I have come to see in the workers' faces, there is a sense of joy in being happy in the moment.  Here at the pipe yard, pay isn't necessarily good, nor is it clean or easy work, but somehow, the folks come and do what they can, the best that they can and live their lives with seeming joy.  At first, I thought this strange and somewhat scary, "How can they be contnent?"  I asked myself, but they are, and as I come and work and then go home, I can say that there is a sense of contentment in me also, not because I am doing so well financially or because I get to wear clean clothes, but because in these last few months, I have laughed more than in the past 5 years, and I have come to appreaciate the honesty of friendships that are born, not of my collar, or my title, but of authentic exchanges between, two, three or more human beings.  OVerall, there are many lessons that can be learned day after day, and for this fool, who believed himself so wise to many things, life has proven that there is more to be learned, more to be seen, more to be lived.  And so, I continue to respond to the call, to life, and along this journey, I am happy to enjoy the good moments and those that are more challenging, because in the end, I have love, I am loved, and I love.  As such, know that you are loved.  R.L.

25 December 2013

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel, has come to thee oh Israel!

First of all, Merry Christmas!  Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business.  Today, there are feasts and gifts galore, and for some, there is time to reflect and recall the roots of this celebration.  (this moment of reflection is a gift in itself for those of us who are introverts)  Anyway, as I spent yesterday into today with family, I was struck by the diverse group of people gathered at my mom's house.  All of us gathered as family, some of us closer than others, but all somehow connected to each other, even if only by the chance that we were under one roof at this precise moment.  The same can be said of the millions gathered to celebrate and worship God's gift on this day.  Rich and poor alike, faithful and not so much, who gather to commemorate Love's taking on flesh.  This morning, as I sat in prayer and reflected on the readings, I was particularly struck by the Gospel of Matthew which is read at the Vigil of Christmas.  In the passage, there is a beautiful recitation of the genealogy of Jesus.  (beautiful but sometimes awful to hear, depending on who's doing the reading)  Either way, to sit and reflect on this list, one can all too easily glaze over the names and fast forward to the good stuff, especially when the Gospel writer begins to tell of the birth of Jesus, and the fulfillment of the prophecy.  In the entire passage, which spans a whopping 25 verses, there is one part that struck me in particular.  This is perhaps the most striking message this entire season, it is when Joseph receives the call to take Mary as his wife.  The passage goes on to speak of her as the bearer of the Savior, the one who "will save his people from their sins."  This is a powerful message in itself, and as we know, it is enough to convince Joseph, but there is more to this passage.  As I sat in church today and prayed before Mass, I was particularly struck by what this message means for us today.  Sure it's nice to celebrate Christmas, it's nice to give presents and to spend some time with family.   It's nice to live out the traditions of yore and to share in creating new ones, but there is something far more profound that takes place in the celebration we observe today.  As I thought about what this simple phrase states "He will save us from our sins,"  I kept reflecting about how this is made real in our world today.  Theologically, one can say that it is effected into reality through the changing of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but that is too easy.  In a more human way, this phrase is made real (or should be made real) in our every day lives.  Beyond Christmas and New Years, and beyond the holidays that everyone recognizes as moments to pause and reflect, we are called to be people whose sins are forgiven.  But what does this mean, and to whom does this apply?  This past week, as I waited in an eternal and infernal line, I overheard two people making political commentary as the TV rambled on in the background,  These two folks had no problem in taking their cues from the different topics the talking heads on TV were referring to.  Inevitably,  the topic of Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson came up.  When this happened, my ears perked up a bit more to see what these two commentators would contribute, to my joy, they took the bait and quickly proceeded to make their observations.  If nothing else, this back and forth between the TV and these two people would have been a bit of entertainment as the line progressed, but for some reason, their comments became a reminder of what we still need in our Christian lives.  Almost without fail, one of the two started with "I'm a Christian, but..."  The words that followed were evidence to me of the ignorance that permeates so much of who we are as people of faith.  In the end, lets just say that Christ was used as a justification for ignorance and intolerance.  Their words were enough to make me tune out, and slowly their number was called up and the lined moved on.  What struck me, however, was the fact that we are a people of faith, and as Christian, we are called upon to be a people whose lives have been inextricably changed by the crazy power of LOVE!  At its root, this is what we celebrate on Christmas, not the opportunity to show each other up with the fanciest gifts or the best feasts, but with the most love.  After all, it is Love that has taken on flesh and it is Love that has come to save us of our sins.  And while there are many of us who are still trying to become people of love, there are many more who take on the name of Love to justify and rationalize ignorance, hate and violence.  Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or anything else, at a very primitive level, we are called to love.  It is love that has sparked creation and love which compels us in our faiths, but the moment when love is used as an excuse for hurting another human being, we are reverting back to becoming people of sin, people of death.  And so this is Christmas, a day in which we gather and sometimes have to put up with our weird family members, but more than that, I hope (perhaps naively) that this is a day of love, in which I recognize that I have been offered a new way of living, a new way of being Christian, one in which I, the leper, am approached and loved, one in which I, the leper, in turn love others because I have known love, one in which I, the leper, live out love as much as I can and become a witness to the redemptive power of love.   I pray and hope that this and every day is a day in which I, the leper, am not seen as someone to be cast out and pushed back, but received and loved, because it was upon me, the leper, the shepherd, and the world, that the star shone upon as it announced glad tidings, that unto me, the leper, a child was born in the town of Bethlehem.  A child who is my Savior, a child who is my love.  I pray, and I keep working at it myself, and who knows, maybe one day more and more of us will share love because we have been saved from our sins, by Love, Emmanuel, Christ! Either way, I pray that in my own journey, as clumsy as it may be, I may be a witness of love, even if it has to be with one person at a time,  I want to be a Christian who loves, not one who uses Christ to condemn.   As always, know that you are loved.  Merry Christmas.  RL

19 December 2013

O Brother! (Silly take on the O Antiphons)

From the 17th of December until Christmas Eve, the Church has what is called the O Antiphons.  Each day, there is a new facet of the name of God.  A very common rendition of these is the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Personally, it is a time of anticipation as Advent draws to a close and we prepare for Christmas.  This season, however, the O Antiphons have taken on a new significance.  For whatever reason, they have struck chords in my heart that hadn't been touched in quite a while.  The resounding of these Antiphons in my heart has been particularly interesting because since leaving ministry, I have come to know God in a very different manner.  In entering this process, I have also come to know how much I need God in my life, and on a very basic, and perhaps simplistic level, I have come to realize how much this longing for God is satiated by love.  Now, since October 7th, and even before, a popular question that I have been asked is "have you found anyone?"  After laughing, I quickly say  no, but in actuality, I am finding someone, and that is God.  As such, this Advent has been a time of getting back to the basics, literally.  It has called me to focus on God and the love that is freely out poured on every single one of us, believer or not.  It is a love that calls us into being and a love that can unite every single one of us, if only we allow it to do so.  And so, as I partake of pleading in the hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I am comforted by the little acts of love that manifest themselves daily, I am challenged to love, especially when that one lady rolls her eyes at me at the check out line, and I am tempted to sit in awe on Love himself, who takes flesh for me, for you, for us all, no exceptions.  As always, know that I love you.  RL