Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"A sower went out to sow..."

For no better reason than, "I felt like it," I wrote the following reflection. Although I never shared it with my friends in the Pastoral Ministry Leadership Formation program, I thought I would go ahead and post it here! I continue to be amazed at how busy God has been in my life these past few weeks.

“A sower went out to sow…”

One of the characteristics of a well-written parable is that it allows the reader to place him or herself in a position to view the action from several perspectives. Such an approach permits us to enter deeper into the mystery that is God. When we do so, the questions for which we find answers rarely take the form of either/or. No, God’s answers are almost always both/and! I am sure that is why Jesus, the master teacher, makes use of parables throughout the Gospels. Take, for example, the readings from this past Sunday.

Quite often, the Parable of the Sower is understood as depicting God as the Sower, the seed as His Word, and the ground as those who hear that Word. That perspective is certainly valuable, and ripe with opportunity to cultivate and harvest a deeper understanding of the mind of God. In fact, this is the perspective that Jesus uses in the second half of last Sunday’s Gospel when he explains the parable to his disciples.

However, it is not the only one. For this reason, I prefer the shorter version of that Gospel which does not include that lengthy explanation. In fact, many scripture scholars believe that the second part of the reading was added by the Gospel’s author. That makes a lot of sense to me. By not explaining what the parable teaches, the master teacher allowed the parable to teach us even more!

For example, let’s imagine for a moment that God continues to be represented by the Sower, but what does this parable teach us if we are the seed, and the world is the ground? It is a subtle change, but one that has far reaching implications. I have to admit that it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Why would God allow my gifts and talents to be cast on the equivalent of rocky ground or among thorns? If He loves me and cherishes me, why would he allow my life to be less fruitful than others?

I do not know the answer to that question, but this morning’s Canticle from the Book of Wisdom gives me some comfort. There is a bigger plan at work. One with which Wisdom “who knows your works and was present when you made the world; Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes and what is conformable with your commands” is familiar. The author petitions God to make that Wisdom present in his life. “From your glorious throne, dispatch her. That she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure.”

And so I have come to another perspective on the parable. This time, I am in the position of the Sower. The treasures, talents and time God has given me in this world are the seeds, and the many ministries in need of help are represented by the ground. I am called to lavish my time, talent and treasure upon those ministries. I ask for the Wisdom of God to be with me when I do so, as an active co-worker. I must always realize that my talents, my treasure, my time - my contribution – is not really mine. It comes from elsewhere. Likewise, the fruitfulness of my action will be the result of forces that are not my own.

Archbishop Romero once wrote, “We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise… We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” John’s Gospel reminds us, “One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work."

There is a place in God’s plan for the path, the rocky ground, the thorns as well as the rich soil. Each serves an important and unique purpose. And, each is part of God’s creation. God calls us to spread our talent, treasure and time without evaluating how fruitful we may think each target may be.

We are all here having spread our seeds far and wide. Some landed within our families; hopefully others took root in the workplace; still others fell upon various church ministries; more than a little found their place here within the Pastoral Ministry Leadership Formation Program. Some of us have spread seed while discerning a vocation to the diaconate. Over the next few weeks, those seeds will continue to grow. As time progresses, some of us will be chosen to begin formation for ordination, some will not. Some will continue with the PMLF next year, some will decide that they can no longer devote the time, talent and treasure necessary to participate. I admit that over the past few weeks, this uncertainty has created more than a little anxiety in my mind.

But prayerful meditation upon last Sunday’s scripture readings made me realize that the seeds you and I have scattered all wound up exactly where God wanted them to land. Each one will sprout according to God’s will. The prophet Isaiah quoted God in last week’s First Reading, saying, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

The result may not be exactly what you and I want or think it should be. But I am at peace with that possibility, and suggest humbly that you should be as well. It is easy to be frustrated and to view our previous efforts as wasted. But in those times, I am reminded to call upon the Wisdom of God to help me to understand that the seeds I scattered landed exactly where God wanted, and needed, them to land. Teilhard de Chardin once equated time with “grace and circumstances acting on your own good will.” We scatter the seeds, God makes them grow. De Chardin closes the same work by noting,

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept
the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

May God’s Wisdom continue to accompany us, and may His grace always be busy in our lives!

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

He's Got the Whole World...

We are called to go out into the world and spread the Good News. I always thought I knew what that meant. But this week, someone at the Beginnings Plus Institute said something that opened my eyes to a whole new perspective.

It was something along the lines that we are called to spread the Gospel throughout the world. But the world is not just Ethiopia and South America. The 'world' is our workplace, our marriage, our family. At the moment it occurred to me, how many times have I said that "my family means the world to me"?

When I got home, the kids were their usually wild and crazy selves. Jack in particular wanted to show me a "sign" he had made for my workshop (the part of the basement where my tools are). It was an 8-1/2 X 11 piece of white paper with red crayon scrawling - some letters were recognizable, but none that formed any words. In the middle was a perfectly drawn heart. He proudly pointed at the sign and said, "You are the best dad in the whole world!" I broke down in tears and held him as tight as I possibly could. I can't believe those little ones are five years old already!

As I reflect upon that little episode this morning it occurred to me how much it can tell us about catechesis. Jack could not form the words, but he could sure draw that heart! While I am on the topic, here is a snip from a comment I posted on someone else's Blog a few weeks ago:

As a child, my family made the trek to Florida about three or four times.
Then, Katie and I made the trip a couple times before we had children. As
wonderful, and memorable as all those trips were, they cannot compare with the
experience we had when we brought all four children down for their first

It did not even take fireworks to make me tear up! Since we were staying at
one of the resorts, we took advantage of the Shuttle Bus service from the
airport to the hotel. The bus had little tv's to keep the kids (of all ages)
occupied during the trip. Then, as we approached the main gate, the bus driver
turned off the monitors.

"Alright folks, here we go! Help me count down.

"Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

I looked over at my six year old son His nose was plastered to the

"six, five, four ..."

I thought, how cool to see the excitement in his face.

"three, two, one... WELCOME TO DISNEY WORLD!!!"

I was crying. The joy that I had remembered from my childhood. The magic of
those days as a young couple, all the wonderful happy experiences that I
associated with Disney World. We were going to be able to share with them as
they made those experiences their own.

I could not help but wonder, "Is this how God feels? Is this the kind of
joy that he feels when we are able to experience His Kingdom?"

I gave Christopher a huge hug. He looked at me, puzzled, and asked "Why are
you crying?" I replied,

"Someday, you will know. Until then, promise me you will never forget this

I know that I never will. I look forward to the day when, nose pressed up
on the glass, I will ride into the Heavenly Kingdom and feel the embrace of God.

I just hope that the wait for Space Mountain won't be as long!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's Australian for Rubric, Mate!

Ya gotta love the liturgist who drafted the Missal for the World Youth Day. The following was found by a friend in the text from the Vigil of the Youth:

The Holy Father enters the stage, accompanied by 12 pilgrims in
traditional dress.

After waving to the pilgrims, the Holy Father and his attendants go
to the chair on a raised dais.

The stage is still in semi-darkness, with the Holy Father lit.

An announcer invites all present to sing the hymn Our Lady of the
Southern Cross.

I mean it is World Youth Day, and it is Australia...

The things you learn at workshops...

I made a lot of wonderful friends at the Beginnings Plus Institute this past week. Amongst the many things I brought back was this gem:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Live... From Richmond

Now that a number of people have been dropping in to lurk, I have been very remiss in not posting more often. Mea culpa!

This week I have been interning with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. Last year after I attended one of their workshops, I was invited to consider becoming one of their presenters. It was a humbling honor to be asked since being a catechist is not my "day job." To have those who do this work professionally identify a rank amateur such as myself as having something to contribute has been very affirming.

As the name of this blog reflects, I am very fond of the apprenticeship metaphor for catechesis. It works so well on so many levels. However, yesterday, one of the presenters discussed how we are called as Christians to be 'ambassadors for Christ.' Someone stood up and began to explain how that expression brought to her mind images and concepts of diplomacy. We must dialogue with others, not talk at them. She said, "So often we attempt to use 'shock and awe' to get our point across."

WOW! The Danish physisist Niels Bohr once said, "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." When I encounter people in a catechetical environment (or elsewhere for that matter), especially those who are at a different place in their faith journey, I must remember that God is not just at work teaching them. I will be transformed as well - If I allow Him to work on me!

In tracking down Bohr's quote for this post, I came across this gem: "It is the soulless scientist who contents himself with merely undeniable facts. Bohr’s quote shows that he and his ilk are after purely irresistible truths." Aren't we all!

Every time the Truth is named, there must be a change. Things cannot remain the same. The Hebrew word for "word" is dabar. It speaks to actions not just things. For example, when God speaks, things happen. To see what I mean, crack open the Book of Genesis, Chapter One.
-Photo: "Eye of God" Nebula taken by Hubble Space Telescope