Every now and then a song pops into your head and stays there for a while. This past Saturday during our Vigil Mass we sang a song with a simple refrain, “God is love, and all who dwell in love dwell in God.” Those words have been in my head ever since. Then early this morning, while preparing for Mass and spending some time in prayer, I found that the words of this song and today’s Gospel passage compliment each other. The passage for today’s Mass is Mark 9:14-29. It’s the story of Jesus driving a mute spirit out of a young man, only after the disciples had been unable to do so. There has been some speculation or questioning as to whether the young man may have been afflicted with epilepsy or something similar. There is also some question regarding the apostles: had they grown a little over confident in their ministry? Forgotten that it must be Christ who works through them? Had they, while doing their ministry, put their prayer time on the back burner? We can focus on the details of the story if we want to, but I suggest that the very last words of the passage, those spoken by Jesus to the apostles, are where we might need to focus. The closing dialogue goes like this: “When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, ‘Why could we not drive the spirit out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can only come out through prayer.’” The message here, although perhaps hidden at first reading, is simple: prayer and works must be connected. All of the work that we do must be directed by the wisdom that we gain in prayer. Whether it’s the work of our job and all of the tasks that might be on our list for the day, or the most important work of all; namely, relationships. Each day and each encounter with another person need to begin with the question, “what is God asking of me in this moment?” This is especially true in our relationships with each other. How do I react to other people, especially in difficult moments? Do I easily “go off on” them, or do I take the time to take a deep breath and allow God and the fruits of the Spirit to guide me? This, I think, is why the words of Saturday’s song from Mass have been on my mind. To “dwell in love and to dwell in God” requires that we dwell in prayer on a regular basis. All of us, in one way or another, are affected by busyness. It can partially or completely sever our bond with Christ in prayer. We hear a lot of talk about being people of peace in a world and a time when there seems to be so much division. Well, it begins with us, in us. For peace and wisdom to dwell in us, we must first take time to dwell in God in prayer. Truly, prayer and works must be connected.
From the Tee Box
Before I say a single thing, please accept this as simply my personal perception, and please know that I always welcome your feedback. I saw something on CNN earlier this week that caught my attention. First, let me back up to a month ago or so. Fr. Simeon Gallagher was here for our annual parish mission. During his weekend homily, he made the statement, “so often in society, we reward mediocrity.” His statement was based on his perception that, all too often, we give awards for any little thing. Within the context of our faith life, this spoke to the theme of his mission, which dealt with the reality expressed, he says, by a lot of the people he meets. These are people who sometimes say to him, “I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious.” In his mind, this often leads to us going only so far in our faith life. Anyway, immediately after he made the statement, our congregation erupted in applause, perhaps as a validation of his thought? Now, fast forward to this past weekend and the mid-term elections. CNN was reporting that the race in Florida had finally been called. In doing so, the anchor referred to the candidates as “the winner” and the other as “the one who did not win.” Now, I may be wrong, but I got the feeling that they were stating it this way on purpose. My reaction, to myself, was, “it’s called a ‘loser’. One wins the election, and one loses the election.” I’m probably making too much of this, but I do think that, sometimes, in some places, we water down reality. Most importantly, losing an election or a game or whatever does not make you a loser. In fact, calling someone a loser, as in, “you’re such a loser” is probably one of the most hurtful things we could ever say to anyone. Making fun of someone’s loss, as in football, elections, and so on, is wrong, sinful, mean, and harmful. But life is life and reality is reality. Things do not always go as we planned. Things do not always turn out as we would like them to turn out. I’m all about compassion, following upon the example of Jesus, our Good and gentle shepherd. It’s just, that, sometimes I wonder if, from one generation to the next, we’re not softening a blow that we sometimes need to feel. To some of you, this sounds crazy and unfair, I’m sure. But I do sometimes worry about the foundation that some of us are laying when it comes to how life sometimes goes. So often I meet people who, when things don’t go their way, want to change the rules or the process that got them to that point. Everyone’s not going to make the team or get elected to student council or make the honor roll. We may very well not get the job for which we applied or be able to keep the job that we have. This is just how things go sometimes. It is absolutely crucial that we are there for each other when we feel discouraged or left out in anyway. Helping ease the pain, however, does not mean taking the pain away.
You will, no doubt, laugh, but this even plays out in traffic. More and more people are running red lights in our city. One young man in college told me recently, “when my light turns green, I wait. I use to go right away but not anymore, because someone’s gonna come plowin’ through.” So, you’re running late? Well, that’s nobody’s fault. But wait, that’s okay. I reserve the right to run a yellow light. No, wait, I’ll run a red one too. Why? Because, in the moment, I choose to change the rules. In the moment, I say to myself, “I should not have to wait.” (That’s the end of my traffic rant.)
So, in my opinion, when we come face to face with this or any other similar reality, we have basically 3 responses from which to choose. We can either walk away and opt for an “I don’t care” attitude and do nothing, discuss nothing, and maybe even become discouraged. Or I can choose to be negative, belligerent, hostile, and mean. If I want, I can even let this seriously damage relationships with family and friends and totally disintegrate any semblance of a positive example for my children. Or, thirdly, we can choose as positive an attitude as possible. In other words, if I don’t like the results, or even if the results frighten me, I will still try to be as objective and “non-mean” in conversation and in my attitude as possible.
I offer for your consideration these words of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel: “…so shall it be with you. When you have done all that you have been commanded to do, say, ‘we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Luke 17:10) In God’s eyes, no one is a loser. We’re all winners. That’s how it should be “in our eyes” too, as we look to and relate with one another. Life sometimes hurts, and we may be down for a while. That’s okay. But hopefully that won’t keep us from getting up again and continuing our move toward all that God has created us to be. None of us is a mediocre creation. We are just the opposite, wonderfully made. That alone gives us the empowerment to do what we need to do, to become what we are meant to be.