Lincoln’s Springfield

They were three kids, all under 11, thoroughly enjoying the hotel pool. They were unsupervised; there was no evidence of an adult, but they were having fun. I let myself in, grabbed a seat, and prepared for a dip. They were wary; the oldest one was a girl, and the younger two clearly deferred to her. It was a small, kindey shaped pool, but I put on a cap and goggles and edged into the warm water. They just watched. Then the little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, asked if I was an Olymic swimmer. His sister quickly reminded him not to talk to strangers. That was when I introduced myself as a teacher and a visitor to Springfield, Illinois, for a conference on Lincoln. I told them where I was from, what grades I taught, and waited. Finally…

“If you’re not a stranger, then, we could talk,” the eldest determined. A flurry of information spilled out from all three: their names and family, their schools and friends. We spent the next couple of hours chatting about how they got in, where they were supposed to be, and then some basic lessons about swimming, just floating, and breathing with even more conversation. They lived nearby in Lincoln Housing. The mom and grandmom were out working and they were supposed to be in the apartment. However, it was really hot, and they knew they could sneak into the pool area with a plastic card. Most days, they got in and out without getting caught. It was generally easier on weekdays; the weekend security guards were less understanding. They advised me that the roof was lovely, also locked, but there was shade up there and you could see their building. Of course, if caught up there, they would also be in trouble. That ran the gamut from being scolded severely to being lead out like criminals to their mom being called (the worst of all. Disappointing her was the worst of all, but it was SO hot, and if she didn’t know…). And so I became an accomplice to the subterfuge, and we became an unlikely quartet for a very short while.

What I learned from them was how hard life can be, how ironic that in the home of Lincoln, kids were still struggling with the realities of poverty. I learned how powerful are the bonds of family and how very innovative and daring kids can be, and how sometimes, we can be a bit more forgiving and a lot more proactive. I think of them often and wonder what the last few years have brought them. But mostly, I remember the power of their interdependence, the ways they looked out for one another, and the way they made friends with a stranger. I remember, too, the responsibility they accepted for their actions, and the ways they expressed love and respect for the women who were raising them. I remember how they made me think about what really matters.

And all that reminded me that the Kingdom of Heaven is right here, right where we are. The pearls of great price are right before our eyes. We have only to notice.


Love has a power all its own, a fortitude that bears the worst of circumstances and invites a deep appreciation for other, an understanding that welcomes flaws and celebrates strengths. It has an intuitive sense of wholeness and an ability to promote growth, individuation, and strength. For human beings, it is also complicated, enmeshed in needs and desires, illusions and realities. But in its purest form, birthed in the divine and a measure of grace, love is the pathway for understanding the past, surviving the present and looking into the future.

There is a concerted swirl of circumstances just now that can devour reason and critical thinking and undermine confidence in the efficacy of love. Anger and frustration on all sides, fear and trepidation on many can prevent openness to one another, and setting those aside can prove more than impossible. That is exactly where Paul’s letter to the Romans. 8: 26-27, whispers of a respite.

 “And as well as this, the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words;

27 and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God.

Giving over to God, taking a moment of rest to acknowedge our weakness, is more than a step towards loving self more fully. Trusting the Spirit to pray for us in those moments when we are most unable to do so invokes the trust and honesty that are so much a part of loving. It enables us to connect to God with the confidence of love and the truth of the moment, to maintain the relationship in even the most frustrating times of brokenness.

Love is about becoming; each step begins the journey of a lifetime, and our lives are created through the choices made. Who, what, and how we love matters as we weave the tapestry of lifetimes. Consciousness of those personal choices, our motives and convictions, as well as the consequences of our choices matters. We become who we are through the relationships we develop, the endings and new beginnings, the giving and the taking. Mysteries abound in every fiber, but the presence of God in the reality of love abides. And in our weakness, the Spirit is there to speak for us. So Paul says.

As in all things, each of us has the agency to make choices. There are social, cultural, and economic parameters, but the chance to choose is always there. In these challenging times, Catholicism offers that reassurance. We need not struggle alone: the Spirit is strength in our weakness and light in our darkness. Love is the gift that empowers us to view the world and our options within it most clearly. Love expands empathy and explores understanding, re-evaluates threats and makes clear decisions. Love is honest and truthful and willing to confront cost for growth. It is personal and far more than that. Love makes the difference, and the Spirit helps make that happen.

Sower and Seeds

This Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time is actually not ordinary at all. The pandemic rages, the economy is unstable and social unrest is building. And yet the Gospel is an incredibly familiar story: seed tossed on a path, on rocky soil and thin soil and finally on rich soil. Where are the links to this extraordinary time? Conventional interpretation looks at Jesus as the sower, His word as the seed, and the people of the world as the soil. It is not enough to rest there.

Consider alternate views. As collaborators in creation, can we be sowing the seeds? Are our words the seeds that give life? Can God be entrusting us with this task? Jesus modelled a message, interaction, attitudes and behavior. He showed us how. Is it our turn?

In this most extraordinary of times, the radical idea that God cares for and loves each of us is the basis of the Gospel’s “Good News”. Trusting that means believing that each human being is created in the image of God, carries the divine within. We are surrounded by the face of God in the eyes and hearts of one another. Can we enter these divisive times with that idea? That the stories each human being carries are worth hearing and sharing? That taking the time to listen, to embrace each story with empathy rather than indifference, fear or judgement, matters. Listening, essentially, means making space in heart for the realities and experiences of others. It is allowing those stories to be seeds, and hearts to be the rich soil. It means recognizing the truths embedded in the stories each person carries and honoring that.

Languaging, though, is a second element. How we tell the stories, the words we choose and the life that exists within each one, matters. It matters to the speaker and to the listener, and it matters how each of them hears and what they understand by the words. Languaging means allowing for flexibility, communication, interaction and, eventually, clarity. Languaging demands both courage and humility. Without it, listening has no chance to profer healing and healthy growth. Remembering that both telling and hearing the stories matters and circles back to the seeming dichotomy between ordinary and extraordinary times, and to the idea that we can choose to make a difference.

Above all, we are simply human beings living through all this. The parable of the sower offers a second reality: in a sense, we are sowers and seeds, soil and paths. So much has been given us: the breath of life, the chance to live and learn and love and grow. And so much then, can be expected of us. As the pandemic mounts and social change intensifies, the need to see the simplicity of sowing seeds of empathy and compassion seems more and more important. Jesus’ parable rests within the Gospel, allows for multiple interpretations, and provides the chance to see that the ordinary truly does rest within the extraordinary. Ultimately, it is all about change and growth. Can we, perhaps, be sower and seed during these challenging times?

Labor and Rest

“Come to me, all who labor without rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light…” Mt. 11

Those words conjure a beast plowing the driest of fields under an unrelenting sun with the incomprehensible weight of a wooden yoke trapping the creature into a predetermined task. Somehow, the yoke itself seemed an unbearable burden, a tool of oppression. But yesterday, in a newly re-opened church masked with tape and signs of social distancing, I heard a priest reflect on those very words. And I began to see something different in them, something of the intimate connection between the created, the Creator, and the Eucharist.

He launched the homily with recollections of his experiences discussing homiletics with young priests. Masked and seated, his large frame was relaxed. His audience was familiar, his presence appreciated. His tenor was at odds with the strictures of social distancing, but his voice was rich in inflection and focus. The worst thing that could happen after a homly, he said, was that the congregation says, “So what?” Hours of reflection or preparation were not what mattered: connecting with people does matter. Making it relelvant. Making it matter. So he tore away the impression that exegesis or intellectual leaps were necessary. Know who you are talking to. Say what matters. Let Scripture speak to this time, to our time, to this moment.

His own homily, then, was not a theological treatise, but an acknowledgement of the trials of the past year and especially the past six months. Not lingering with the public or the political, he connected words born in centuries long past to the lives and experiences of today. He focused on just a few phrases from the Gospel.

28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

And then he confided what mattered. The words are an invitation to the table of worship, to come here to spend time. Rest here, before the altar, and share those burdens and that labor. Become connected. Realize that you are never alone in that labor or those journeys. Meet again with the God who loves and cares for us, who embraces the burdens we carry, who is so deeply connected to us that we are literally yoked tome another. Lay down the burdens. Know that the struggle is neither fruitless or meaningless. Each life has significance, and ours is a God who cares so deeply for each one of us. We are continually invited to come to him. He is waiting for us.

Life is a conspiracy of circumstance. So much is simply beyond personal control, dependent on variables unknown, unexpected, unseen. There are chance encounters, magical moments and deadly turns. It is exhilirating and exhausting, sometimes all at once. In all this, there is the soft and reassuring words. “Come to me, all who labor without rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light…” Perhaps it was never about the beast of burden at all.