As part of my formation goal for the coming year, I'm trying to develop a sustainable priestly spirituality. Based on the recommendation early last year of Fr. Ron Knott, a member of our formation staff on loan from the Archdiocese of Louisville, my goal includes beignning a prayerful reflection each Monday on the coming Sunday's readings. My goal is to reflect on the readings each and every week as the week unfolds. In addition to that, twice a month or so I will practice writing a homily-like reflection. My hope is that this practice deepens my spiritual journey of discernment and formation by helping me listen more closely as God speaks to me and the community (communities??) I'm a part of... and also that I practice trying to be an instrument of God speaking to others through that process.
*shrug* I'll share at least some of these reflections here for those who may be interested. More to come soon on my recent trip with Fr. Will and about 60 2nd - 4th graders for four days of camping and tubing in the Smoky Mountains. Peace.
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I’ve always been a person of good beginnings. I get excited at the front end of a project. I get excited and make plans and commitments. I have grand images of how things will be with this new chapter in life. And I love God – I do. And so my images are often those of piety. Coming to Pikeville for the summer, for example. As the end of the school year approached and I learned of my assignment for the summer, I began to get excited.
I saw myself covering the miles and miles of mountains being a beacon of hope for the Church there. I saw myself rising early in the morning to pray. I’d pray the whole Office, stopping five times faithfully each day to offer a sacrifice of praise. I’d get back to a regular practice of lectio divina and have long talks with God. I’d meet and serve the poor, the forgotten, the underserved. I’d spend a Holy Hour every day at the parish church. My struggles with day to day living would vanish in a cloud of love and service to God’s people. After all, God was calling, and I am willing!
And then, soon, two things happened. Sure as anything, after a couple of days that voice of doubt and past experience began to creep in. “Come on, Alan – we’ve been here before. You never live up to those images of piety. You never seem to pray as much as you think you should. You never do as much as you like. What do you know about the mountains? What do you know about much of anything – after all, you’re just a seminarian… and a new one at that!” Yeah – that old voice I’d heard before – and the scary thing about it is: it’s true. I never seem to get as far, as well, and surely not as Holy as I’d hoped. And with that realization, sometimes I’m tempted to give in to what has been – surrender to what I’ve always been, how far short of the mark I’ve often been. All that light and excitement and energy that comes with the good beginning threatens to get clouded over.
The second thing that happens is, I actually begin that beginning. I move to Pikeville. I begin to start routines. I try to set the bar high and work through all the plans and images and imaginings I’d had floating around in my head. I set out to do what it is I thought I would. And wouldn’t you know it…not even two days into it and it turns out that voice has a lot of truth. I didn’t pray that Evening Prayer as devoutly as I’d wanted. I didn’t get up and exercise one morning like I thought I should. Instead of spending my evening writing letters to those I know who need encouragement, or praying with the scriptures as I thought I would, I watched a movie. (Oh – it was a good movie all right – but as soon as it was over, there was that voice – back again, louder than before – and with ample evidence at hand to prove its point.)
It’s a familiar story – and perhaps it’s familiar with you, too? Ever have great dreams of how you’ll honor or serve God that just don’t seem to come out the way you thought they would? Ever decide to start some – even simple – prayer or devotional practice as a way to boost your relationship with God only to find a few days into it it’s gone by the wayside? Ever decide you were going to participate in some ministry here in the parish, only to realize months down the road that you never made that first call? Do you ever hear that voice that says, “Here you go again, my friend. Bet you’re gonna’ miss the mark. See? You already are!”
Good thing that’s not the whole story, isn’t it?
There’s GOOD NEWS for us today – GOOD NEWS to be had here where Christ has come to be present with us in Word and Sacrament. Yes – GOOD NEWS in the very WORD of God. And that GOOD NEWS is that God KNOWS us – KNOWS us well enough to express His LOVE for us in a way that allows us to LOVE him back. And the best news of all is… that its our LOVE he wants most from us. When we genuinely and truly love Him, all the rest falls into place just as it should.
We heard in our first reading that God knows our ‘piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away’. I’ve been struck by the beauty of the mist over the mountains on these early mornings here and Pikeville – and by how quickly the sun burns it away. Yep – just like my good intentions sometimes. Here for a bit, and then quickly burned off when the ‘day-to-day’ routines kick in. And if this were all there were to the story, we’d all be in trouble – wouldn’t we? But God tells us in this first reading that its not perfection in all our good intentions He’s after – it is our LOVE that God desires – God wants us to LOVE Him and to know Him.
We don’t just listen to that voice that accuses us, that voice that reminds us of our shortcomings. We don’t do that any more than Abraham did when God told him he’d be the father of many nations. Abraham probably heard that same voice that we sometimes do – he was almost a hundred years old and married to a barren woman. He could have heard that same voice saying, ‘There’s no way, old man. No WAY for you to father nations. Just LOOK. Look at your limitations. Look at your shortcomings.” But, instead, we read in Romans that Abraham never doubted God’s promise – never doubted that God would do through him what God said He would do. And it was credited to him as righteousness.
Today we’re here to worship a God who loves us – and knows us. A God who knows our limitations, but calls us forward anyway. A God who calls even those of us who fall short of the mark sometimes. And what He asks of us more than anything is to love Him. Christ came not for the perfect, not for those who perfectly live what they set out to live. Because God knows our inability to reach perfection better than anyone – after all, He created us. No, those who are well don’t need a physician, but the sick do… those with shortcomings do… those whose fervor burns off like the morning dew need Christ. And how is it that we respond? With love, by our efforts to know God, by our actions that grow from that love and knowledge.
The sacrifices, the holocausts, the devotion and service to God that are true – that last – that will be sustained long after the morning sun has burned the mists of our own plans and designs away… they grow naturally out of that genuine love for God – a love planted in us by God, a gift from Him that constantly draws us back to him…, that love the flowers as beautiful as the wildflowers in a spring meadow.
As we worship Christ in Word and sacrament, let us remember that what God wants most from us is our love. As we eat His body and drink His blood, let it nurture us in that love that brought Him to us in the first place. And, with a true love and devotion of men and women healed of an eternally terminal illness, let us go forth from this place to share this GOOD NEWS with those we meet. For, when our love grows strong, nourished by Christ Himself, the piety, the devotions, the sacrifice, the life we live will be stronger, more beautiful, and more pleasing to God than anything we could come up with on our own. That love will help us know how God intends us to honor and serve Him, and give us the strength to follow His intentions – and that love will sustain us, even in our shortcomings, so that our efforts won’t burn off like mist in the first ray of sunlight.
Together, strengthened by this Eucharist, let us ‘Go and learn the meaning of the words: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Amen.