Up-sizing

Thirteen years ago we moved into a home that was at least half the size of the house we vacated. We had needed a place large enough for the seven children we blended into one family: outdoor space to accommodate the sporting interests of the four boys still at home, indoor space to host out-of-town relatives and assorted high school friends for overnight holiday gatherings. But in 2004,  my husband’s health issues and an empty nest made relocation an easy decision.

I know that some of you readers may have faced the joys of downsizing. For us, it consisted of two garage sales (one at each property), truckloads of “stuff” for disposal, tons of books donated to the local libraries, in addition to several pieces of furniture given to the two local married children, still at the acquisitive stage of life.

The night we moved, we collapsed in bed, feeling that at our age we had been barely able to accomplish the ordeal. And we were still a good deal younger than 75-year-old Abram and Sarai when they got their marching orders from the Lord. One big difference: they were up-sizing.

abram-leaving-urGod directed them to take their servants and farm animals with them, and to settle in a much more extensive territory. There God would give them countless descendants to fill and eventually inherit the land.

Abram had a few questions, the most important of which had to do with heirs, since he and Sarai were childless and at their age quite likely to remain so.

Major lessons from the Old Testament have to do with total obedience to whatever the Lord commanded. It didn’t matter that the people so commanded might think themselves utterly unfit and even unqualified. Moses argued that he couldn’t lead the Israelites to freedom because he couldn’t speak very well, or persuasively. Not to mention his lack of management training. He was a shepherd, remember, in charge of gentle animals who are easy to lead — a far cry from the independent-minded, faithless Israelites.

Jeremiah complained that he was too young to be a prophet, and Abram certainly could have said, “We’re way too old for a move like this! We’ve gotten used to our life and are happy the way things are.”

“Not good enough,” I imagine God replying. “Staying in the same place all your life simply means you’re in a rut. Grow up and out! Take on an adventure, for heaven’s sake! Expand your horizons! Blossom!”

And so says He to us who would rather keep on doing the same old thing over and over, fighting tooth and nail against any change — particularly those of a spiritual nature.

Isn’t it odd that it’s usually adults, not children, who complain about change? A child can’t wait to get to the next step in its development. Like the little girl I recently met who took the opportunity to brag to me, a stranger, “I just turned 5!” Hurray!

Children consider it a badge of honor to outgrow last month’s new clothes. Bring on the new set! Moving up a grade is a significant milestone. I can remember starting 4th grade, how my classmate, with a twirl of her pigtails, proudly remarked that this year we were to launch into the new subject of HISTORY!

So how does it happen that we outgrow this eagerness to grow, especially where our faith is concerned? Our spiritual life can and must grow and change, ever deepening in our knowledge of the God we serve and of the Savior we love. How can we think that everything we need to know about God was learned in the 2nd grade? Have we so fully understood all there is to know in the Gospels? And Christ purposely told cryptic parables, challenging his audience to work at understanding their meaning and how they might change their way of looking at life, their way of living.

So here we are now in Elmira, our worship space and schedule shrinking. We may be downsizing in these respects, but in the grand scheme of things we’re up-sizing. We’re merging into one community, thankfully an optimistic development. What if it were the other way around? Instead of merging, what if there were some form of rivalry causing us to split?

Let’s offer prayers of thanks for this solution. Our graceful and grace-filled unity offers an opportunity to be seen as a public model of Christianity, an image of living evangelization. What a blessing! What new forms of living and growing in our faith might be open to us now? Christ tells us that the unity of believers images none other than his all-inclusive love for us.

“I pray that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one . . . that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me.”
(John 17:20-21; 23-24a)
Together

If You Love Me . . .

At least once a week we recite either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed, a summary of the doctrines we accept as fundamental to our religion. They become especially meaningful as we receive newly formed candidates into the church, and when our young people receive the sacrament of Confirmation. At these liturgies it is common for the congregation to join in the profession of faith.

In addition to pledging adherence to the traditional Creed, the ten commandments, and the rules of the Church, it is even more important that we remind ourselves of Jesus’ teachings as recorded in the Gospels. For in Matthew, Chapters 5 through 7, Jesus calls us to a deeper interpretation of the Law. You have heard it said . . . (and he quotes an existing law) . . . but I tell you . . .

For several of the ten commandments, he adds a deeper rule that surpasses the apparent goodness, or righteousness, of the Pharisees: Do not kill is elevated into Do not be angry with another. Do not commit adultery is not enough: we must reject any lustful thoughts. As children of our heavenly Father, we are held to a certain standard of behavior that goes above and beyond loving those who love us. Anyone can do that! Our transformation into the people of God means that we become God-like in our love and prayer for enemies, not just for our friends.

At the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples a “new commandment” that covers all the rest: to love one another as He has loved us. This is the very center of our Christian faith and the path to union with God, as urged by the principles of Vatican II. It is through love for others that we arrive at a deeper understanding of who God is and of our relationship with Him: If you love me, you will keep my commandments …. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:15; 21)

And so, we need to profess fidelity to this law of love, so that we let others see that we are indeed the children of God in Christ.

Christian Creed: A Sequel

*   I believe in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ his Son, and in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love that binds them and us together.
*   I believe in loving my neighbor and myself, as God loves us.
*   I believe in forgiving anyone who causes me pain.
*   I believe in praying for those who hurt me.
*   I believe in loving my enemies.
*   I believe that, as a Christian, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in me, and that I carry the Trinity to all I see or touch in this world.
*   I believe that God desires happiness and unending life for all souls he has created, and that is why he sent his Son to teach us how to live in harmony with one another.
*   I believe that Christ taught what he heard from the Father; that for these teachings he accepted rejection, cruel treatment and execution.
*   I believe that God’s law of love as taught and exemplified by Christ is the one thing necessary; that the law of love must be followed and cherished, thus drawing us into an unending place of joy and love.
*   I believe that I am called to relive the life of Christ in the unique circumstances given to me.
*   I believe that we who call ourselves Christians are called to imitate Christ in all things.
*   I believe that we are given the graces necessary to live by  the commandments of Christ.

Amen.

Proof of Faith

During this season when the Acts of the Apostles are read, we’re led to think about the early Church, its formation and growth. (Believe it or not, I used to think that these readings were boring! That tells us how God helps us grow.)

It was not only during the Apostolic period that the Church was faced with problems. What becomes clear is that there were many different “beliefs” plus challenges to those beliefs that cropped up from one era to another. This post is dedicated to brevity, so even if I knew them I can’t list the many heresies that invited constant clarification, correction and defense. Certainly, the most basic attack on faith today is atheism which still thrives and still gives rise to some form of apologetics. Next threatened is dedication to  mainstream religious practices that promote and require belief in what seems to be unbelievable.

Arguments over doctrines throughout the ages have led to un-Christian extremes of wars, bloodshed and martyrdom. This in turn leads to the disintegration of the religion that promotes such beliefs.

The problem is that we humans want evidence and certitude; logic and reasonableness. And the fact is, faith seems to elude these standards.

We don’t have a problem agreeing with the doctrine that says we’ve been made in the image and likeness of God, probably because it lifts us above the mud of our nature. However, our God-likeness gives us a mind, and the mind will simply not stop asking questions and looking for solid evidence. Even when God came to us as a touchable human being, we still wanted more. “Only show us the Father; that will be enough for us!” Phillip asks Jesus. “Give us a sign!” was the constant demand from people who had already seen many signs and who really didn’t want a sign because then they’d be forced to accept Jesus as the Christ.

Over the centuries, various proofs for the existence of God have been offered as absolute. (And heaven help you if your god is different from my god!) But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Just what is this faith that Jesus hoped would fill the earth?

I think it’s safe to say that Christ wants us to believe in him — rely on him — enough to follow what he taught: a way of living that would actually imitate God; a way of treating one another as God treats us, forgiving us and making his sun to rise on the just and the unjust. This is how we become the “image and likeness” of God our Father. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. We don’t start out that way; that’s how we hope to finish.

A wonderful insight as to to what constitutes proof of the existence of God is to be found in the May 1 issue of America magazine. In a review of a recent film “The Case for Christ,”  Jesuit Paul Lickteig writes:*

“. . . these movies are unlikely to convert unbelievers, because they demand a type of belief in God that requires unassailable evidence. The problem is that for those who live a life of faith, certitude is something that we seldom find. Evidence for God’s existence can always be questioned.”

Lickteig’s premise is that we Christians need to offer proof of Christ with our lives, not with apologetics.

“That we so often lack the capacity [I would say the “willingness”] to live our convictions—to practice love, mercy, fidelity and self-sacrifice—leaves the outside observer wondering not if Jesus existed, but if faith really matters. Where is the proof for that?

“… Faith in Christ costs a person everything. As Christians we will be asked to profess the equally implausible beliefs that Jesus rose from the dead and that we are supposed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Really, which is harder to believe?)

“… The only proof we will ever have is observed in the power of Christ to transform the ways we live. The truth is that nothing other than the love of Christ, revealed in a Christian’s life, has ever, or will ever serve as proof for the existence of God.

In this, Lickteig echoes Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote that the Christian of today must be a mystic (i.e., one who is totally in love with God). Add to that these statements from other notable human beings:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” G. K. Chesterton

“I would have been a Christian if I hadn’t met one.” Mahatma Gandhi

“So let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The visible practice of Christ’s teachings is the only proof that can persuade others that God is real and, especially, that God is good.

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* “The case for (and problem with) “The Case for Christ””. Paul Lickteig, S.J. America May 1, 2017. For the complete article that appeared online April 6, check this link:
https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/04/06/case-and-problem-case-christ

Beatitudes For Friends Of The Aging

Blessed are they who understand
My faltering steps and my palsied hand

And blessed are they that know that my ears today
Must strain to hear what they have to say.

And blessed are they that seem to know
That my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.

And blessed are they that looked away
When my coffee spilled at lunch today.

Blessed are they with a cheery smile
Who stop to chat for a little while.

And blessed are they who never say
You told that story twice today.

And blessed are those who know the way
To bring back the memories of yesterday.

Blessed are they who make it known
That I’m loved, respected and not alone.

Blessed are they who know I’m at a loss
To find the strength to carry my cross.

Blessed are they who ease the days
Of my journey home, in loving ways.

From bible.org, Author unknown