Seeds of Faith

Worried about Worrying

Scripture Reflection for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Recently, I was visiting with a friend facing significantly challenging times unlike any I have faced in the past, and I shared with him my glib wisdom for not worrying, which went something like “We are limited in our ability to control the outcome of tomorrow.  Worrying about situations and people we have no control over is a waste of our energy.”

“Why don’t you just pat me on the head and offer me a Coke?” he asked drily.  It was apparent he felt patronized by my good news, but he made a good point about how easily I can tell someone to not worry when I have not walked in their shoes.  I thought of how often I circulate well-intentioned, inspirational messages through social media with messages like “Worrying never changes the outcome,” or “No amount of worry can solve any problem.”  Just don’t worry…here, have a Coke!

Even though I need to continually tell myself precisely these words tcoke-cliparto prevent my own worry, and even though I believe they hold true for everyone, it was unhelpful for me to tell someone facing the loss of their home (in so many words) “Don’t worry, be happy.”  In the same way, it would be insensitive to tell someone unable to feed their family, “Just don’t worry! Everything works out in the end.”  It would be condescending to tell someone awaiting results for a medical test, “Worry about that when the times comes.”   The human experience can be filled with joy, love, and hope, but can also be messy with complex challenges, and personally working on accepting this fact helps enable me to keep the worry at bay.

Interestingly, a research study published in the December 2016 edition of Biological Psychology suggests some “normal” worrying can serve a useful purpose in our lives insofar as normal worry can help us to solve problems connected to daily living, to help improve our mood, and to help us avoid catastrophe.  For example, “I am worried because I want my presentation to go well, so I will carefully prepare and arrive well in advance of the start time to review my material.”  Being attentive to the matter and working to resolve it helps to reduce my worry.

However, the authors of the study stated worry can take on a more damaging form, presenting a serious challenge to many of us feeling excessive anxiety over what tomorrow will bring.  I have mentioned in another reflection that the term “worry” is derived from the Old English “wyrgan,” meaning “to strangle.”  Strangle is exactly what worry does to us if left unattended to grow out of control.  Humans tend to worry when presented with uncertainty, but does this mean we have failed as Christians because we worried against Jesus’ advice?  No, there are times in life when worry wins over and mires us down, and it seems the only thing to do is pray, and because a prayer petition is far better than a Coke (for most of us), here is a version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” you may be less familiar with:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Trevor Droesbeck
Office of Youth Faith Development

Exploring Our Faith – “Endurance … will gain your souls”

Reflection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

The Gospel at first glance does not seem to resonate with ‘good news.’ It is filled with doom – ‘nations will rise against nations,’ ‘there will be great earthquakes,’ ‘they will arrest you and persecute you,’ ‘you will be betrayed even by your parents.’ Hard to see much about good news in any of this.  As I write this reflection we are a day before the United States elects a new president.  Regardless of the outcome, the strife which has appeared to consume arguably the most powerful nation on earth in the months leading up to this election, may well contribute to the sense of foreboding.  If media coverage is accurate, it will take time to mend the divisions which have surfaced during the campaign.  The Gospel speaks what we are presently living.

clear backgroundYet, with all of that, there are glimpses of hope.  ‘Do not be terrified,’ ‘I will give you words and a wisdom,’ ‘not a hair of your head will perish,’ Jesus tells us. It is, Jesuit priest John Kavanaugh says, as though Christ is “counseling us not to be alarmed at our condition,” because this is the condition of every time.   War and disaster, much as we would want it to be otherwise, appears to be part of the human state.  There is nothing new under the sun the writer of Ecclesiastes has told us.  The world is always in the midst of upheaval, disaster, war, uncertainty. And every day brings death.  “Each day is the last. Each time is the end time. Each human being faces the end of the world in the span of a life, whether it reach eight minutes or eighty years. The world, its opportunities and losses, passes away for us each night. Every sunset announces a closing of a day that will never come again,” Kavanaugh reminds us.

It is easy to hear the voices of hate; it is easy to be corrupted by fear; it is easy to let our fear lead us to hate.  When we learn to hear instead the voice of the one who loves us, the one who brings us comfort, the one who assures us he is with us always, then we feel differently.  Then reason, trust, hope prevail and can bring peace and harmony, respect and tolerance.  This takes faith … and it also takes patience.  Because it is hard to be a voice of love in a climate of hatred.

The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy draws to its conclusion on November 20th with the Feast of Christ the King.  This year of mercy, however, is not a one of … we are tasked to live every year as a year of mercy.  Mercy, Pope Francis says, “is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.” (MV#2) It is the bridge that connects us to God, and in so doing “opens our hearts to the hope of being loved forever.” (MV#2) Mercy, therefore, benefits not only the person to whom we extend mercy; it benefits us who are merciful as well, by helping us to become joyful and serene.

I learned long ago, that the only actions I could control were my own.  If I can hear, and believe, the words of Jesus when he says ‘do not be terrified,’ maybe then I can become the person of mercy I am meant to be.  And through that, gain my soul.

Ellen Bennett, Office of Faith Development
Archdiocese of Moncton

God of the Living

Scripture Reflection for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

October 31, 2016

I begin writing this reflection Halloween morning, a day with different meanings for different people, depending on your religious or spiritual tradition.  Ancient Celts believed on this day the veil between the living and the dead lifted and spirits of those who have died walked the earth.  Yesterday, the Hindu festival of Diwali took place, which celebrated the victory of light over darkness.  Christians mark October 31st as All Hallow’s Eve since November 1st will be All Saints Day, and the day following will be All Souls Day, two days our church remembers and celebrates those who have died before us in faith.  In Mexico, All Saints and All Souls take on a special significance in the form of Dia de los Muertos; Day of the Dead.  Each of these celebrations reaffirms for believers of diverse customs that death is not the end of the story.  Our Christian tradition teaches us that because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, the death of our physical bodies does not mark the end of the story for us.

Recently I spoke with a woman who talked about her morbid fear of death and she asked me if I was afraid of dying.  I do not spend a great deal of time thinking about my own death, but I had thought about this, so I replied “No, but I am afraid of dying without having given my best to living.”  I do not think she liked my response because she changed the subject of the conversation.  If our conversation had continued, I would have told her that while I do not fear death, I certainly fear dying painfully.  Even still, indulging myself in dark imaginings about how I will die is not particularly helpful, and today’s Gospel from Luke reminds us that our God is not a “God not of the dead, but of the living.”

November 1, 2016

I continue and finish writing this reflection on the afternoon of All Saints.  This morning in Amherst I attended the funeral of my father’s brother, my Uncle Alex.  As we gathered in the cemetery for the interment, I looked around at the generations of people whose lives he had touched.  Surely part of him will live on through them.  I see Alex’s siblings, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; all carrying with them a significant part of my uncle not only in their DNA but in their hearts. Like most people in the world, we believe those who have died before us remain with us in one form or another.

Steven Curtis Chapman sings of a “glorious unfolding” which reminds us that the best is yet to come.  Here is the refrain:

And this is going to be the glorious unfolding
Just you wait and see and you will be amazed
You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over
So hold on to every promise God has made to us
And watch this glorious unfolding
[1]

Trevor Droesbeck
Office of Youth Faith Development for the Archdiocese of Moncton

[1] Glorious Unfolding, lyrics by Steven Curtis Chapman© 2013

Scripture Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jubilee for Catechists – “Announcing the Mercy of God”

With the decision to celebrate an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we receive a glimpse of something which is of paramount importance to our Holy Father – the mercy of God. In the midst of this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has named other jubilees.  One which resonates with me in a particular way is the one celebrated today: the Jubilee of Catechists.

“Who are catechists?” Pope Francis asks.  “They are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others.” Catechists are not only those who facilitate the faith development of our children.  They are the folks we encounter every day who show us through their actions that God’s bountiful love and compassion is present in our world.  “The contemporary world listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses,” Pope Paul VI told us in 1975.  In the forty plus years since we heard that first proclaimed, very littI am a catechistle has changed.  It is still the actions of people, more than their words, that move us, that form us, that heal us.

“The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person.” (MV #12) Think of people who are announcing the mercy of God to you.  Is it their words which does that?  Is it the way they live their lives?  With deep appreciation I note the hundreds of folks in our Christian communities who have accepted the invitation to play a formal role in the ministry of the catechist – those who work with our children, who prepare couples for marriage, who prepare parents for the baptism of their children, who accompany adults and children who seek initiation into the Roman Catholic faith.

And I remember with thankfulness and affection the multitudes of people who have shown me over and over again the unconditional love and mercy of God – my parents and grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my siblings, my husband, my children, my friends, my colleagues – ordinary people, living ordinary lives with grace in times of trail and pain, joy in times of hope and promise.  The many whom God has put in my life to offer a hand of friendship and love so that my life is full and blessed; the many who live with courage in illness, with dignity in poverty and financial hardship; the many who challenge me to look at situations with a different lens; the many who have a much broader view of neighbour than my own; the many who teach me, encourage me and occasionally force me, to be all that God means me to be.  Sometimes this is by their words, and frequently it through how they live. In all cases, those who are deliberate in their ministry of catechist and those who are simply being who they are, have shown me over and over again, who God is.  In that, they are catechists.

Pope Francis says that “on the lips of the catechist, the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’ This first proclamation is called ‘first’ … because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.” (EG #164)

So many people have entered my life, for a short time, or a long one, all placed there by a God who loves me, and is with me always … and on this Sunday, I think of them, and am filled with love and gratitude.

Ellen Bennett, Office of Faith Development
Archdiocese of Moncton

The Homecoming

Reflection for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

All of this talk of forgiveness and healing lately.  The recent canonization of Mother Teresa taking place within the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, along with the theme of forgiveness in this weekend’s readings has me thinking of reunions, homecomings and reconciliation…the very things I think we should expect from a church characterized by Pope Francis as a field hospital for those suffering from battle…not a museum for those who have achieved full communion with God right here on earth while many struggle at times to practice it.   As an 18-year-old High School graduate I remember feeling nervous and uncertain as I prepared my move to Antigonish where I did not know a single other person, and when I arrived I felt homesick for something…anything familiar to me.  Attending mass gave me such a comforting, refreshing taste of home, that I attended daily.  Walking into the University chapel with its wonderfully familiar church smell, CBW IIs and Glory and Praise hymnals, along with all the liturgical symbols made me feel as though I just arrived home, and it was here I made friends of faith with whom I have stayed connected over twenty-five years and counting. When spring rolled around that first year and the time came for me to return to New Brunswick for the summer, I felt exhilarated knowing I would soon reunite with friends, family and my community. Attending mass with my mother at St. Jude’s was an experience of hoprodigal-sonmecoming and it felt good. The faith community where I was raised and catechized was a place I felt I belonged, and over the years I have begun to think of attending weekend mass (wherever that may be) as a respite from my troubles and all the people, places and situations that interfere in my relationship with our God.  I am strengthened by the assembled Body of Christ to return to the “real world” and try to stay attuned God’s love, grace and mercy.

The challenges, though!  There is a line in the 1985 film The Color Purple, where a preacher in a southern country church shouts at his congregation “All of us have been prodigal children at one time or another!”  This sounds true enough to me, for I have certainly staggered through a few of my own prodigal episodes, each one looking very different.   Each time I returned humbled, limping, and seeking treatment in the field hospital: love and forgiveness from others and from God.   The good news of course is that God will always grant it when I seek forgiveness contritely, but as a human with a sneaky ego I must wrestle with my imperfection and my blind spots.   Fr. Richard Rohr suggests that 2/3 of Jesus’ teachings are directly or indirectly about forgiveness, which makes it “an entire attitude about forgiving reality for what it is, forgiving the tragic flaw, forgiving an imperfect world.”   The idea of loosening my attachment to perfection is liberating, not because I am free to do as I please but because it gives me permission to wear my weaknesses as part of my armour.  For me, the journey of faith is no longer about beating myself up for my shortcomings…or even worse than that, passing judgement on others based on how I think they fall short.  These days my faith journey is more about trying to stay connected to the homecoming…and if I am able to stay connected to this message, perhaps I will not stray too far from home.

Trevor Droesbeck
Office of Youth Faith Development for the Archdiocese of Moncton

The Rest of the Story

dreams_of_fly-wideIt is interesting to me that in a secular culture which often vilifies faith, there is still a profound fascination with rising from the dead, with eternal life, and with the afterlife.   Zombies, vampires and ghosts, oh my.  AMC’s The Walking Dead now has well over 13 million weekly viewers.  Penny Dreadful is the most recent in an endless stream of hugely popular television series built around vampires and the “undead”.  As for ghosts?  Well, most people I know can share a ghostly encounter of their own or can tell you of someone who has.  Do not misunderstand me, I love a good Stephen King novel or a gothic ghost story.  For me they are like taking a ride on a Dive Coaster where I can experience the thrill of recklessly free-falling without suffering the consequences.  Could our fascination with ghastly entertainment point to a need for reassurance that death might not be the end of the story for us?  If asked, most people would say “Oh, I don’t believe any of it, it is all in good fun,” and my friends who are atheists would say “That is ridiculous!”  It might be, but I do not think it is ridiculous.

When I was in sixth grade my maternal grandmother died suddenly, and it was the first time I was confronted with the death of someone I dearly loved.  The news of her death remained unreal to me until I arrived at her house in Nova Scotia where the wake was held and saw her casket in the “back room.”  People, including many I had not seen before, milled about the kitchen and living room wearing solemn expressions on their faces and spoke to one another in hushed tones.  Over the next few days it dawned on me in incremental stages that I would not see her again, I would not feel her hug me, nor would I ever again accompany her to mass.  Gone.  I was distraught and did not appreciate what life was handing me.  I cannot remember exactly when, but shortly after her death she began frequent visits to my dreams.  In each dream, she would appear to me, just as I remembered her, explaining that she was not really dead, but just “away”.

“I thought you were gone,” I would say to her, overjoyed.

“I was away, but I knew you needed to see me,” was her reply.

We would sit at her kitchen table and talk, like I remembered doing when she was living, and the dream would go on for what seemed like hours, and I would be happy.

These dreams were at once reassuring and devastating because as a 12 year-old with a vivid imagination, I would experience the joy of seeing her again as though it had happened in the flesh, only to wake from sleep and realize once again that she was no longer with us.  As the years passed these dreams became more and more infrequent, but do you know what?  From time to time I still have them.  I had one recently in fact but now that I am 43 years old I think of them only as a blessing, as well as a gentle reminder that she has been me all along.  Who is to say that is any less real?

I would have loved to have been a witness to the funeral scenario in today’s gospel reading from Luke. How jarring must it have been for those who did witness it, to have seen the finality of death challenged and beaten?  Many of us love a good horror tale, but I am encouraged that our Christian story helps us look death in the face and defiantly proclaim, “Meh.”

~Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development

The Good Shepherd

Good ShepherdDo you recognize this image?  Take a moment.  Yes, you do?  Keener!  No?  You are not alone.  When the same question was posed to me a year and a half ago, I was unable to identify it as  the image gracing the cover of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  On the inside of the first page of the Catechism, it reads:

This pastoral image, of pagan origin (…) also suggests certain characteristics of this Catechism: Christ, the Good Shepherd who leads and protects his faithful (the lamb) by his authority (the staff), draws them by the melodious symphony of the truth (the panpipes) and makes them lie down in the shade of the ‘tree of life,’ his redeeming Cross opens paradise.”

Sounds alluring, doesn’t it?

In the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time, various shepherds would arrive in town and corral all their sheep together into one sheep-fold…enough sheep to count for even the worst insomniac.  This was done for protection and companionship, and I have read that a competent shepherd would know each member of his flock, often by individual name.  The relationship between flock and shepherd was not one-sided, though.  The sheep knew their shepherd as well, and would recognize the voice of their master when called.    There was no need for the sheep to be marked according to individual herd, or kept separate from one another using a physical barrier.   They knew their master’s voice.

This Sunday past I facilitated a confirmation retreat for one of our parishes in Moncton and before we did anything else, even before we prayed, I led the group through an exercise where I asked them to don blindfolds before I gave them a long list of detailed instructions for a picture I wanted them to draw.   As I read out the instructions, I blared loud music by One Direction and Rachel Platten.  Once I finished with my instructions, I asked them to remove their blind-folds and view their drawings, which delighted them because of course they looked nothing like they were supposed to.  The idea behind the exercise was that it is possible to hear the voice of Jesus through the noise, but it involves challenges along with some focus and some effort.

In 2016 our culture is one of distraction from truth, forcing us to filter out many noisy voices in order to attune to the voice of Jesus.  We have the voice of advertising (You’re not good enough!  You suck! Buy more of our products and be more beautiful! More popular! Be a better human being! Buy now!); There is the voice of individualism (In the end, you’re all alone so look out for yourself!); Ironically, even the voice of religion (I’m right, you’re wrong! You’re not good enough! Just leave!) can distract us from connecting with Jesus at times.   Noise.

There is good news, though.  Like the sheep who recognize the voice of their master, we have the gifts needed to discern the voice of God.  At times when I find myself caught up in the distracted noise of all of the competing voices around me, I hear the voice echo within me “Remember who you are,” and I know this is the voice of my good shepherd.

-Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development

Drawn from Within

Drawn from Within (Richard Rohr)
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Although Jesus’ message of “full and final participation” was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics, the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals, instead of an all embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism (as opposed to healthy morality) is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful “requirements” that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way, and I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming to do or not do rather than undergo a radical transformation of the mind and heart. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-18). Yet that is what we still do!

Any external behavior that puts you on moral high ground is always dangerous to the ego because, as Jesus says, “you have received your reward” (Matthew 6:2). Moralism and ritualism allow you to be independently “good” without the love and mercy of God and without being of service to anybody else for that matter. That’s a far cry from the full and final participation we see Jesus offering or any outpouring love of the Trinity.

Our carrot-on-the-stick approach to religion is revealed by the fact that one is never quite pure enough, holy enough, or loyal enough for the presiding group. Obedience is normally a higher virtue than love. This process of “sin management” has kept us clergy in business. There are always outsiders to be kept outside. Hiding around the edges of this search for moral purity are evils that we have readily overlooked: slavery, sexism, wholesale classism, greed, pedophilia, national conquest, gay oppression, and the oppression of native cultures. Almost all wars were fought with the full blessing of Christians. We have, as a result, what some cynically call “churchianity” or “civil religion” rather than deep or transformative Christianity.

The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but actually by participating in the Mystery itself. Carrots are neither needed nor helpful. “It is God, who for [God’s] own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you” (see Philippians 2:13). It is not mere rule-following behavior but your actual identity that is radically changing you. Henceforth, you do things because they are true, not because you have to or you are afraid of punishment. Now you are not so much driven from without (the false self method) but you are drawn from within (the True Self method). The generating motor is inside you now instead of a lure or a threat from outside.

Gateway to Silence:
Spirit of Love in me, love through me.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 102-106.

Advent Week I: The Gift of Hope

God of all those who yearn for a glimmer of assurance on the long journey home to you, come!  Come with a vast storehouse of renewed dreams, hopes, and peacefulness.

God of hope, come!  Enter into my memory and remind me often of the yearning of the people of history.  Stir up stories of how the ancestors hung on to your promises, how they stole hope from tiny glimmers about you, passed on from age to age.  Help me to hear the loud, crying voices of the prophets who proclaimed that a new age would dawn.

God of hope, come!  Enter into this heart of mine which often loses itself in self, missing the message of your encouragement because I am so entangled in the web of my own whirl of life.  Enable me to not lose sight of the power of your presence or the truth of your consolation.

God of hope, come!  Enter into the lives of all those I hold dear, the ones whose lives are marked with pain, struggle, and deep anxiety, those whose lives bear ongoing heartaches, those whose difficulties threaten to overwhelm them with helplessness and despair.  Come and gift them with a deep belief about you and your never-ending faithfulness and companionship.

God of hope, come!  Enter into every human heart that cries out for a glimpse of your love, for assign of your welcoming presence, for a taste of your happiness.  Be the one who calms the restless and gentles the ache of the human journey.

God of hope, come!  Enter into this Advent season with the grace of joy and laughter.  Fill faces with smiles and delight and voices with sounds of pleasure.  Let this gift come from deep within.  Replenish all with the joyful blessings that only your peace can bring.

God of hope, come!  Be the Morning Star in our midst, the Light that can never go out, the Beacon of Hope guiding our way to you.  Come into our midst and make our lives a home, where your everlasting goodness resonates with assuring love and vigorous hope.

~Joyce Rupp, taken from Out of the Ordinary © 2000, 2010 by Joyce Rupp.  Used by permission of Ave Maria Press.  All rights reserved.


Even the worst parts of my life can be turned into good.” ~Nick Vujicic


For reflection:

Where do you find hope in your life?

Is there any area of your life that seems hopeless and needs to be rekindled into a burning flame? 


 

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Many (perhaps all) of you are too young to remember this U2 song from the first time around in 1987, but a couple of years ago, I happened upon this cover version sung by the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir.  The first thing I thought was, “If this was my church choir, I would never want to leave the building!”

What do you think the narrator of the song is looking for?  What’s the message?

As we enter into the Season of Advent, with its themes of joy, peace, hope and love, what is it you are looking for?  Do you expect to find it?