Saturday, April 13

Things Above and Things Below: Greater and Lesser, Obedience and Openness

Reflection given at Hillhaven Nursing Home in Silver Spring, Maryland (04-27-17)
When I was a little boy, my Dad and I used to go out in our backyard with our telescope and look up at the stars in the night sky. It was so beautiful! I still do that sometimes, when I can. I would always watch movies and shows on television about the stars, the planets, the moon and the whole universe. And I don’t know about you, but I always had a hard time thinking about all of these things that are so much bigger than anything I’ve ever experienced or seen with my own eyes!

When we are children, everything seems so big. Even now, it feels like our world is so big, there’s so many people, so many places, so much stuff! And when we look up at the stars, they seem so small, like little push-pins in the night sky. From our point of view, everything on earth looks big, and everything in the sky looks small. But maybe God is asking us to consider looking at everything from a different perspective.

Now, in the Scriptures, we find John the Baptist saying “he must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30) - talking about Jesus - or we could say “he must become bigger, and I must become smaller.”  The more we let Jesus increase in our lives, the more we become the people God wants us to be. But to let God work, become bigger and increase in our lives, God is asking us to be obedient, just as Peter says in his letter to the Jewish leaders. What did Peter mean by “being obedient?”

Well, there is a story about St. Francis of Assisi. One time, he took some the brothers who had just joined him out into a garden and gave each of them a turnip. He said, “I want you to dig a hole,” and they all dug a hole. Then he said, “Now I want you to put the turnip in the ground with the green part down and the point sticking up.” One of these brothers spoke up and said, “Brother Francis, everyone knows that you don’t put a turnip in with the green part down.” And Francis said, “This wasn’t a test of whether you understood gardening; this was a test of your obedience.” So Francis sent him home because there was no room for a brother who could not be obedient to his other brothers. He was trying to teach this new brother the meaning of obedience.

So when we listen and obey the words Jesus gave us, the Gospel tells us that we look at everything differently. It’s like walking around a big city like New York City where everything seems so big, but when you get on an airplane and you look down at it, that big city looks very, very small. And when God gives us that new and different perspective - then we start to know what the Gospel meant when it talked about “the one who comes from above is above all.” But you know what? God is very big but he made himself very small to live with us and be one of us.

All our lives we try to be big. We want to grow up. We want to have a bigger home, a bigger job, a bigger impact. There is something inside of us that makes us want to be BIGGER AND BETTER. And that’s good. But how? What’s the right way? What’s the Gospel way? Well, if we ask Jesus, the one who came from above and also lived here below with us, and we listen and obey Jesus, he told us what to do: be small. Be humble and you will be great!

May the Lord give you peace.

The Greatest Commandment

There is an interesting story in the Jewish tradition about two rabbis and a Gentile. The Gentile asks the two rabbis to be taught the entire Torah - one of them gets angry, and the second replies, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” We see this as the Golden Rule, but it is also connected to the Greatest Commandment. Maybe we could see it as “Love as you would want to be loved.”

The Jewish Rabbis had counted 613 Commandments in the Hebrew Bible, and here they ask Jesus - which is the Greatest Commandment? Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, said that all the commandments are summarized in the call to love. To love someone with our whole being is not an easy thing to do. It is hard enough to love as it is, so try to imagine loving someone with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole strength! Sounds like “true love,” right? Well, that’s the kind of relationship God wants for us - for you, for me, for everyone.

Much like Michaelangelo’s painting, God is reaching out toward us - but are we reaching back? God is always there, already waiting for us. As one saint said, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” If that’s the case, then all we need to do is be open to that love, and be willing to show and share that love with each other. That’s really easy for me to say, writing this, but it’s another thing to go out and do that, in our homes, in our work, or “out there.” I know I need help with that.
And yet, although it is the most important thing, one of the most challenging things for us as is also the greatest commandment. Let’s go out and try to love each other as we would want to be loved - the rest is commentary. 

Thursday, April 19

Did You Know Attending Church Can Help Seniors Live Fuller Lives? Here’s How

Guest article by Jason Lewis
As we age, it can be difficult to find our place in the world. Health problems, life stresses and changes in our family can be overwhelming, so it’s important to be able to find some direction amid all of the chaos. Church can provide that direction, as well as a host of other benefits, for seniors and older adults. Going to church can bring positivity to our lives in the form of these five connections. 

Connections With Others 

Church services are a wonderful means to connect with other people in the community in a positive way. At a time when friends may be far away or when family is tied up with everyday life, it can be hard to find ways to reach out to other people. Yet, social ties are crucial to maintaining a positive spirit and good mental health. Through church, weekly services, study classes and social activities allow seniors the chance to connect with like-minded people. People who will be there in  times of need and people who will help provide needed care and compassion, relieving the negative impact of loneliness in life

Connection to Compassion 

Most churches encourage charitable actions and giving, allowing seniors who attend the opportunity to give back to the community. Gathering clothing for families in need, collecting blankets for the homeless and organizing food drives are just some of the ways churchgoers regularly contribute to those who are less fortunate. If a senior doesn’t feel up to physically helping out, there are plenty of chances to give supplies or money to worthy causes and reap the benefits to the soul and body. If a senior finds themselves in need, say for a warm meal or help with household chores, a church community can provide for them as well. 

Connection to the World 

Aging can leave us wondering about our lives and really contemplating how we are connected to the vast expanse of the universe. It can be lonely to think about, but church can offer spiritual guidance and allow seniors to really feel connected to the world. Knowing that each person has a purpose, each life is worth living and every person is capable of redemption can help those who may feel lost or lonely. Feelings of loneliness can lead to dependence on alcohol, prescription drugs or other unhealthy vices, which only serve to make seniors feel more lost. Turning to church is a much healthier way to deal with these upsetting feelings. 

Connection to Purpose

We yearn to leave our mark upon the world and we tend to do this by leaving our wisdom with others. When careers have come to an end and families have grown apart, many seniors may be left with idle time on their hands. Hands that once cared for children and a mind that mentored workers may feel restless and ineffective. Most church communities consist of members from multiple generations and seniors can have an opportunity to help shape youthful minds. Senior church members are a source of wisdom and stability for their younger friends. 

Connection to Ourselves 

“It can be difficult to make ourselves focus on the here and now, especially if we’re going through a transition as life-changing as addiction recovery,” says DrugRehab.org. “But taking even a few minutes a day to be mindful of all we have in the present moment - and especially all we have to be grateful for - can help us feel more at peace with ourselves, our surroundings, and our circumstances.” Going to church offers dedicated access to these mindful thoughts and practices. Church encourages prayer, which is a chance to reflect within, to reflect upon what we have in our lives and to ask for help pressing forward through life’s problems. Prayer helps us find peace within ourselves and peace with the world around us. 

We all want to feel connected, to feel loved and to feel like we have made the most of our lives, especially as we grow older. Church can provide comfort, compassion and connection when we need it most, and help us age with dignity and grace.