Seeds of Faith

Reflection for The Feast of the Epiphany

 

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Note:  The following is a homily I wrote in 2008 for a course in biblical foundations.  I decided to post it as-is, instead of making adjustments in hindsight.  Today, I would write something different.  Don’t judge me!

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, and in today’s readings we continue with a theme of light and wisdom.  According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, “epiphany” means a “sudden and important realization or manifestation.”   For us, this may seem like somewhat of a misnomer given that we have spent the four-week-long season of Advent preparing for the arrival of Christmas.  We have done this by watching the star of Christ, and by praying upon the imminent arrival of God’s human form; but for the Magi who made this long journey, who knows what they expected to find?  Perhaps they had doubts along the way.

In our faith tradition, “epiphany” more specifically refers to the Magi’s visit to the newborn Jesus, and the way in which their eyes were opened to the arrival of the Messiah, a story outlined in Matthew’s gospel. Upon the arrival of the Magi, they recognized Him for what He was and bestowed upon Him royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Who where these Magi?  Well, most biblical scholars agree the Magi were most likely not Kings as we know them, but members of a priestly class, still important in Persian society.  For reasons we do not completely understand, the Magi embarked on a pilgrimage prophesied by Isaiah in the First Reading and echoed in today’s Responsorial Psalm; a journey that would lead them approximately 2,000 kilometers in pursuit of a “star”, which would have taken them upwards of 12 months.  This is a journey equivalent to riding from Moncton to Ottawa and back.  By camel.  Across the desert.  With scorpions. 

It must not have been a comfortable journey… but the Magi had the wisdom to know there was something unique about this star and possessed the fortitude to pursue its meaning in spite of considerable discomfort.  The star, which was a lamp unto their feet, did not disappoint them.  In reference to today’s Responsorial Psalm, these Magi successfully found the light of peace that will abound “until the moon is no more,” meaning that the compromised vision of moonlight will be illuminated by God’s presence here on earth.

It is sobering to think that the journey made by the Magi more than two thousand years ago is very relevant to us today in 2009.  As people of faith, we are called upon to recognize the light of the star, the light of God; recognize it within ourselves, within others, and also the light cast by the star upon the world around us.   The “mystery” Paul refers to in his letter to the Ephesians is no longer a mystery; the nature of the light is known to us, for we know its miraculous source.

Think for a moment about the epiphanies you may experience in your own life… what I like to think of as “Ah-ha” moments.  Those of you who are parents likely experienced such a moment the first time you looked at your newborn, and suddenly understood something wonderful that was up until then unknowable and therefore unspeakable.  Or perhaps you have been confronted with a serious illness and through the accompanying fear and anxiety, you began to understand something about life’s richness that you could not possibly have known before.  Perhaps you have spent time in another country where traditions and customs were far different from your own.  Hopefully you now understand something more about the connectedness of human beings than you did before.  Or maybe you have done mission work with the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the outcast.  You likely now understand that you are really no different than anyone belonging to any of these groups.  Such realizations may have hit you slowly, but more than likely they came upon you suddenly with a sense of acknowledgement and insight you could feel in your gut.  These are epiphanies, and in them we should acknowledge the light of God as their source.

I like to think of the Feast of the Epiphany in relation to the story of Emmaus Road told in Luke’s gospel.  You remember it.  It is the story of two of Jesus’ disciples walking along the road to Emmaus after He had been crucified, and when the resurrected Jesus joins them, they do not recognize Him, despite the fact that He is walking right alongside them.  In this story, the disciples were at first unable to see the light of the risen Jesus because they were so consumed with their grief at the loss of their friend.  But then Jesus made Himself known to them and they understood.  Their epiphany.

In the very same way, we are often unable to see this light of God, the light of goodness, because of the negativity that surrounds us… assaults us everywhere we look. 

It is truly difficult to find goodness when we are bombarded by images of genocide, war, violence, hatred.  These all represent the darkness of the night through which the Magi pursued the star… they possessed the wisdom to do this.  Even if sometimes we are unable to recognize this light, what would happen if we took this as an opportunity to project the light of God through our lives?  Consider all those who have illuminated goodness amid an otherwise dark time and the miraculous evidence of their efforts; Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Terry Fox, Nelson Mandela. 

In a way, these folks were all similar to the Magi, because they were unafraid of the darkness of racism, of poverty, of sickness, of injustice; in following their hopes, their dreams, their ideals, they were echoing the footsteps of the Magi in their journey toward the light of God.  The gift of their pilgrimage is a better world in which we now live.

I would like for each of you to take a moment to focus on the guiding light, and consider how it speaks to you, consider where it would like to lead you.  Pray for the wisdom of the Magi so that you may discern its meaning with greater clarity, and perhaps be a lamp unto the feet of others in this world. 

If each of us were able to carry that light with us throughout the next year, that would be miracle enough.  For now.

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

 

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

ImageReadings for Sunday, January 6 — Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Suggested Reflection Questions:

  • The Prophet Isaiah paints a picture of the coming Emmanuel’s light flooding the world and filling the people of God with joy. In this season of celebrating the coming of Christ, what makes your heart “throb and overflow” with joy? What can you do this week to “rise up in splendor” and bring joy to someone in your life who is going through a rough time?
  • Both the psalm and the Gospel reading refer to a coming King. The psalmist describes a king who “shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him” and assures us that “he shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save.” As Christians, we proclaim that this king is Jesus Christ. How can you imitate the King of Kings this week? How does this vision of righteous leadership influence the way we participate in government?
  • In Matthew’s Gospel, Herod (however sinister his motivation) exhorts the magi to “go and search diligently for the (Christ) child.” Like the magi, we all seek Christ on our own path. What does it mean to search diligently for Christ in today’s world?

(from Young Adult Ministry In A Box – Busted Halo)

Worth Waiting For

Reflection on the Word

December 16th, 2012 (Third Sunday of Advent) 

 ImageIn today’s gospel reading from Luke, John the Baptist proclaims good news to the crowds of people clamouring around him; a message of common sense fairness and justice.  As they await baptism, the people ask John for direction on how to live their lives, and John tells the tax collectors to be fair in their collections, the soldiers not to abuse their power, and the others to be charitable to those who have less.   Of course, approximately 2,000 years later, greed, selfishness, and abuse of power and position are still with us, but it is helpful to know this is not the end of the story.   The good news is that there are signs of hope all around us, particularly in these weeks leading up to Christmas.   During this season of Advent, as Christian people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs prepare commemorate the arrival of God in human form, I am inspired everywhere by the light of people doing good things as they struggle to close the gap between privileged and less privileged.  Literally, everywhere I go…Christmas gift collection, toy drives, turkey drives, radiothons, telethons, food drives, food baskets, winter clothing drives, fundraisers for soup kitchens, letter-writing campaigns, anonymous acts of kindness, etc.  The list is refreshingly long.   Every day I see and hear about it, helping me to understand that preparing for the arrival of God’s son can yield miraculous results during a time of both physical and spiritual darkness. 

This past Monday (December 10th), the world observed United Nations Human Rights Day, so I decided to check out the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (www.un.org).   If you have not read it, this document is grounded in gospel values, and Article 25.1 in particular echoes John’s teachings to those who came to him seeking advice for renewal through baptism:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

As we wait for the coming of Christ in our world, in our communities and in our hearts, we stand united in solidarity with those struggling for basic human rights in both our global and local communities.   This season of Advent is an appropriate time to acknowledge that many of us are still waiting for universal human rights, and not just passively waiting, but actively working towards this goal.   We wait for light to illuminate the dark places in our lives and in our world.  We wait for this with the joy and hope of today’s first and second readings when “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…”   I think that is something worth waiting for.

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

God, Explained

This was written by eight year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista , CA . He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, to ‘explain God.’

EXPLANATION OF GOD:

One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.

God’s second most important job is listening to prayers An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.

God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.’

Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista . At least there aren’t any who come to our church.

Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.

His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.

You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.

You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God!

Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.

If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.

But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

And…that’s why I believe in God.

-Amen

The Gospel of Joan Dillon

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In teaching us charity, the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.”  (Pope Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens, 1971: 23)

In last week’s Scripture/Liturgy Corner, Deacon Charles Broderick outlined the T3’s of stewardship; time, talent, and treasure, and how it is our responsibility as Christians to take the gifts loaned to us and use them to build up God’s Kingdom, similar to the widow in today’s gospel from Mark who gave to the treasury two pieces of copper, the equivalent of one penny.   “All that she had.”   After watching wealthy scribes submit large donations, Jesus saw the widow put all that she had into the treasury, recognized the depth of her faith, and pointed her action out to his disciples. He presented her as an example of someone whose trust in God was greater than her fear of material poverty.

I am privileged to have known a woman just like that.  In the early 1990’s I attended St. Francis Xavier University, and during my four years there I was involved with an outreach program working with First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities in Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties.  X-Project was the name of the group, and the soul of the group was a woman named Joan Dillon, who worked with others to start the program in response to a racist 1965 culture.

Each year, X-Project drew together hundreds of University students, children, youth and community members to work against racism and social inequality.  Over the years, Joan mentored thousands of people from all imaginable backgrounds, reminding every single one of us about who we were and what we needed to be to one another.  She lived humbly.  She gave everything she had to everyone she knew.  Being a friend to Joan meant knowing never to admire anything she owned, because it would quickly be given to you as a gift.   She embraced those on the margins.   She proclaimed Good News with her life.   Today, Joan lives with a terminal illness, and X-Project still works at empowering young people in the communities it works with.

Joan’s compassion for those in her life was radical, and I think of it something like this:  When people gather together to share a meal, it is considered polite to wait until everyone has been served before any one person begins to eat.   However, recognizing injustice, Joan applied this to her life, offering all that she had in order that we all might be better off.

Theologian Fredrick Buechner describes the meaning of compassion in these words:  “Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

Peace, Joy, and Love to you, Joan.

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

Trick or Eat 2012

The Food Depot Alimentaire distributes 2.5 million pounds of food in South Eastern New Brunswick each year.  Hunger is a very real issue in many people’s lives.  For those people who cannot fill their cupboards with adequate food to feed their family, hunger and food are a constant worry.  As youth leaders, we are VERY proud to say that our youth achieved their goal of making a difference and fighting back against hunger. In preparation for the Trick or Eat event, the middle school and high youth groups from Immaculate Heart/Holy Family raised food donations at a Soup and Roll Supper and raised monetary donations from parishioners at IMH to support local New Brunswickers.  On Halloween night, youth from Immaculate Heart/Holy Family’s youth group, St. Jude’s youth group and Charlotte Bradley’s Grade 7 Catechism class, went around collecting food donations. The grand total of all their hard work surpassed their goal of collecting 1000 lbs of food! In all, the youth collected 1017 lbs!!  We are very proud of the difference this will make in many families’ lives.  We are also very proud to say our youth are working towards a brighter future.  Today we hope that you smile because of the kindness these youth have spread into the world.

To the youth of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, you are truly kind and thoughtful. Be proud of the work you’ve done, and know that we are.

~ Emily LeBlanc, Jessica LeBlanc,  Trevor Droesbeck & Charlotte Bradley

Like A Child

Reflection on The Word –

October 7, 2012

There is a popular movie which appeared in recent years starring Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd, and it includes a conversation as they watch the children of Rudd’s character playing on a playground, delightedly blowing bubbles.  The two adult men marvel at how much fun the children have playing with bubbles, and Paul Rudd’s characters says, “I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.”   I think this comment fits perfectly with today’s gospel from Mark where Jesus says “…whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it,” because in this scene from the movie, the father (like the disciples in today’s gospel) was skeptical (and I think a little jealous).    Do you remember playing Hide-and-Go-Seek as a child?  Do you remember the sheer, untainted delight you felt as the person who was “It” counted down with their back turned and eyes closed?   You had only a few urgent seconds to run away to find a good hiding place, it was all you could do not to shriek in anticipation, and it was the most exciting thing in the whole universe.  How great would it be to relive that kind of pure joy over something so simple?

Each year, as we prepare young people to receive the sacrament of confirmation, we often have conversations about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.   Wonder and Awe (or Fear of the Lord) is listed as one of these gifts, and this gift is what keeps us aware that God’s majesty is beyond our ability to understand.   As we grow older, it is easy to become disconnected from this gift.   Certainly, our experiences can make us cynical, and frequently jaded.   At other times we start to think we understand God perfectly, and I am not sure this is ever a good sign.   One of the greatest spiritual gifts I have received was when I realized that everything I thought that I understood about God was really very insignificant compared to what God is.   It seems ironic to me that this realization should be liberating, but it opened my mind about faith and spirituality in surprising and unexpected ways.   It restored in me some of the Wonder and Awe that is so characteristic of children and youth, and as we observe Thanksgiving on Monday, this is one of the things I am thankful for.

Of course, the Good News is that when Jesus tells us we need to become like little children in order to enter into the Kingdom of God, we know it must be possible.  Personally, I am blessed because the young people I work with consistently keep me in touch with the beauty of observing the world with child-like amazement, and I am inspired to seek out spiritual practices that help me to remember what that is like.   Catching fireflies certainly works, but so does flying a kite at the beach on a crisp October day.   I suggest rolling down a grassy hill without worrying about grass stains on your clothes.  Jump on a trampoline.  Chew watermelon-flavoured Bubblicious.

So why not go out some sunny autumn day armed with a gallon of bubble solution and blow some bubbles?  Return to innocence, and let yourself be grounded by the forgotten wisdom of a simpler time.

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

Breaking the Rules

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Reflection on The Word –

September 2, 2012

Rules.   Some love them for providing structure almost as much as others abhor them for exactly that reason, and from time to time we all struggle with the rules of other people, government, or church.  Each of today’s readings touches in some way on rules, providing us with a reminder of the need to understand in our hearts what lies at the center.   In today’s gospel reading from Mark, the Pharisees and scribes challenge Jesus when they see his disciples have not washed their hands before eating (according to the Jewish custom), and Jesus responds passionately, referring to them as “hypocrites”.   I suspect there are times most of us behave as the Pharisees and scribes did at that meal, setting ourselves up in opposition to one another, offering criticism for not doing what is expected.   This gospel scenario brings to mind exactly those times that we use rules, laws, codes of conduct as a means of splitting ourselves into groups that stick to the rules (implied = the good guys) and those that do not stick to the rules (implied = the bad guys), while losing sight of why it is we do what we do.   In regard to matters of faith, the rules should exist not as a means of controlling and grading the behaviour of one another, but as a means of ensuring God is close in our hearts.    If we the baptized comprise the Body of Christ (every single one of us), any attitude, action or behaviour that creates division is harmful to each of us.

It is true that some reject rules simply because we resist being told what to do.   However, some like to understand the source.  Where does this come from?  Why do we do this?  This rule makes no sense to me!   Questioning why we do the things we do is healthy, but often in matters of faith when we question the rules laid out for us we are greeted with a lukewarm reception.   We get shut down with a brick wall because “it is just the way it is.”

Over the past few years, I have had numerous conversations with teenagers and young adults who feel comfortable enough with me to sound off on their frustrations, and I have learned this:  most seem naturally inhospitable to the use of rules and regulations of faith as segue to what they consider judgemental attitudes and behaviour.    I do not think it overstated or scandalous news to suggest that the Christian community in general suffers from a difficult reputation in regard to using God and rules of church as a means of judging one another, and I find that young people are especially attuned to this.  They reject it, and some cite it as a central reason for not participating in their faith community beyond what they are required to do (by law of the parents!).

Fr. Ron Rolheiser summed this up eloquently when he wrote “Dogmatic boundaries are important.  But, equally important, we don’t do God, faith, religion, and the church a favor when our beliefs are narrow, bigoted, legalistic, or intolerant.  Anti-religion is often simply a reaction to bad religion.”   So let us not forget that we are a people of Good News!  Let us be worthy of today’s words from Deuteronomy, “Surely, this great nation is a wise and discerning people!”

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

I Am With You Always

Reflection on The Word

June 3, 2012

I am with you always until the end of the ages.  

How awesome is that?  These words have been a source of comfort to me since I was a teenager, although my understanding of what they mean has changed considerably over the years…and of course by change, I mean to say I understand them much less clearly now.   I am okay with this, because today, they are a source of wonder and amazement to me, for if we confront the challenge posed to us in today’s first reading from Deuteronomy, and try to consider all of the ages of creation, the ends of heaven and earth, things tend to become…well…vastly incomprehensible.    I have difficulty comprehending the vastness of our solar system, so trying to imagine “one end of heaven to the other” is almost entirely out of the question.

When Jesus said to his disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” I wonder what they must have thought.   I do not fully understand it, and like the Most Holy Trinity, I do no think we are meant to understand it.   For me, this is where my faith kicks in…it fills in the gap between an inconceivable God and my limited human capacity to understand the Creator.   I think this space were faith resides also presents challenges to us and our technological culture, because we expect answers, and we expect them last week.   We are not accustomed to living our lives within a mystery, and for most of us living in a space of mystery can be very uncomfortable.

What are the ingredients of this lovely Mocha Frappucino?  Google will tell you all you need to know to buy one, make one, or buy your own franchise in 0.09 seconds.

Has my cousin finished washing the dishes yet?  Check his Facebook timeline, it is likely he will have posted the status of his dishwashing online.

What is this song playing on the radio?  NEVER wait until the end of the song to find out.  You MUST Shazam it with your Blackberry, which will tell you the name of the song, artist, album and year after a frustratingly long period of about six and a half seconds.

I am a dedicated user of technology, and I work with young people whose lives are intricately connected to technology in its many forms, so I use the above examples not as a criticism of the wonderful information made available to us through its use.  I use them because becoming accustomed to and expecting this sort of immediacy has the potential to make it more difficult for us to step back and know that the Holy Spirit is with us always, even if we sometimes do not understand how or why or where.

What we do know about how the Holy Spirit works is that it is often in ways that are unexpected and unfamiliar to us, ways that seem illogical, or perhaps even frightening to us…spiritual curveballs that make sense not to our brains but our hearts, if we are open to learning the language.

In my experience, if we are able to accept the mystery of the Holy Spirit being with us until the end of the ages, and become comfortable with not always knowing, we become better able to acknowledge the good in our lives with gratitude, and we also develop the strength to wade through those challenging times with hope and courage.

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