“I should like you to be free of anxieties.” 1 Cor. 7: 32

Those soothing words, laden with hope, live in the vibrance of St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. On this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, they are nestled in the opening lines of the second reading and hold the wish of a lifetime: freedom from worry, from fear, from distress and stress itself. There is a certain irony in the remainder of the passage: Paul deftly defines all the reasons to worry and to be anxious. The secret to the truth rests in the Gospel, in Jesus’ casting out the unclean spirit, and in the realities of relationship. Relationships defined by love are built on truth and honesty; Jesus’ relationships with the Apostles and then with Paul are rooted in the same. Truth and honesty are rich fibers, threads, that weave mere acquaintances into friends, friends into lovers, lovers into partnerships and families and sponsors of new generations. The stories of each generation are inextricably linked to one another and speak long past individual lifetimes. So it is with the ebb and flow of Scripture: the rocky terrains of the Old Testament sorting through the passions and pleadings of a world beginning and the birth of a Chosen People searching for anchors in the midst of being simply, inevitably human.

2021. Searches are simplified by the magic of Google, but human life is as complex, confusing, and confounding as it was in the time of the prophets, the patriarchs, Esther and Ruth, Judith and Maryam. And then the New Testament beckons with the hope, that sense that in the midst of all that is human and painful, challenging and courageous, that there is something more. Faith is the something more: it resides in the recogntion that there is something other than self, the recognition of God that explodes in the Gospel as the man with the “unclean spirit” address Jesus:

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Jesus demands that the unclean spirits come out of the man, and so it happens. In the same way, there is the promise that faith provides a tool for recognizing and dealing with anxiety. It is not a cure-all, a pacifier or a delusion. Instead, it is about finding a wellspring of support in relationship that empowers a person to deal with the circumstances that circumscribe lifetimes. There are the elements to it: being honest with self, being responsible in choices and building relationships on realities. There is a commitment: it is found in practice, in prayer, in purpose, and in the trust that although human is fraught with failure, God is beyond that. Faith is the secret to survival, to negotiating human life and to discovering the most precious treasure of life: love.


Quiet. Stillness. How it reverberates in the soul, speaks to the moment. In a chaotic human experience, Quiet is the gift of the soul to the clamor of each day. Quiet alone draws the curtains of calm and comfort. Quiet marshalls that strength to a soul that has none, and dances with the real meaning of a moment. Quiet lingers while the waves roar until stillness finally arrives and the surface becomes like glass. Quiet makes all the rest palpable and pertinent and possible. And so Quiet is the most extraordinary of gifts in this Ordinary time. And while the Gospel this week has Jesus calling to his disciples, it is the Old Testament reading about the city of Nineveh and the second readng from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians that shout about Quiet.

Nineveh was a city wracked by lawlessness and self-destruction, divisiveness and degradation. Warned of imminent danger by the prophet Jonah, the city united in reparation, fasting and sackcloth. What would have seemed impossible occurred. And according to the story, the city was thus spared. Then there is 1 Cor 7: time is running out…the world in its present form is passing away. Nineveh’s lifestyle shifted; in the world we live in, lifestyles are shifting. And still, Jesus is calling, inviting his disciples to a new life.

And there rests the link to the Quiet. As humanity wanders through this era of loss and recrimination, the power of social and economic structures, the unfolding calamities can devour well being as well as rational focus. Finding footing while juggling the responsibilities of everyday in a pandemic world is daunting. Add to this the uncertainty of what and who is safe, the sharp divide on mask wearing, the struggles of every family to manage what was once so clear: daycare, school, work, travel, leisure, celebrations and gatherings. The din of confusion easily reaches an overwhelming crescendo.

But there is, in each and every ordinary day, the chance for Quiet, to step away, to indulge in a moment of nothingness. That can occur even in a crowded space, if allowed. There can be those moments of deep breaths to gather thoughts, to relinquish fresh pangs of emotion and find something more. We are, after all, the guardians of our own souls, and most responsible for navigating what life brings. Quiet is a tool to tackle the toll of living. This week, the readings promise the presence and necessity of change throughout life. More importantly, each also promises the Divine presence through all of that.

It may be difficult to discern in contemporary rhetoric or in the hypercriticism aimed at one another that a god could be present. It may be implausible, in a world of heightened anxieties, to shift past the tangible to something deeper. But the message of this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time seems profoundly clear: change is a part of life, possibilities always exist, God is always communicating. A big part of the way that happens is in the Quiet. The Quiet of conversation, of silence, of celebrating the Eucharist, of believing that Something Greater Than Self might just be God. Quiet is the venue of becoming, of believing, of choosing to know life more deeply and love more fully.

Here and Now

In the havoc of the past week, the temporal world conspired to frighten and scandalize, threaten and undermine all that the US holds sacred. Fractured and violent actions allowed political posturing to steal the stage from the cadence of tradition. There have been frantic searches to resonate with righteousness, to claim victory. The ordinary citizen is left processing what would have seemed all but impossible a generation ago. The United States struggles to find footing in the midst of a global pandemic, philosophical divergence, racial dichotomies and economic collapse. Not yet chastened by the visible issues, even deeper bunkers are being dug. Words are now the tools for labelling and vilifying; only limited glimmers of common ground are visible. And so everywhere people search for ways to grasp the situation, to determine how to live and what to do. Turn off the news, separate from social media, practice acts of kindness, take walks….perhaps there is more.

In this very extraordinary time, the liturgical calendar ironically points to the beginning of Ordinary time. It is the voice from 1 Samuel 3: 3b-10, 19 that speaks to the complexiy of this moment: “Here I am, Lord.” Anchored in the quiet and the familiar, the story itself overflows with a profoundly timely message.

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.  You called me.”
“I did not call you, “  Eli said.  “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am, “ he said.  “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son.  Go back to sleep.”

At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am.  You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

Perhaps, in this moment, listening for the voice of God, responding to God, matters more than we realize. Maybe in the midst of all the churning tumult, there is a message being overlooked: maybe this is an opportunity to listen for the deeper meanings, to stand willing to serve with all the learning that implies. It is a moment to step beyond the familiar, to risk believing in something far greater than self. Maybe it is a moment to re-discover what it means to be here, to realize limits and to trust in the wealth of what it is to truly listen to one another.


There he was, on hands and knees, gathering the trash after the Capitol breach. One representative, working methodically and quietly, resanctifying the space he felt to be so sacred. It is, after all, the people’s house. And now, it had been desecrated by the chaotic crowd. One person who put aside the rhetoric, the outrage and the grief. One man doing what needed to be done at the moment. And so in sheer simplicity, he demonstrated what it is to be humble and to do the right thing. In a thousand ways, he was showing what it is to be called to a moment, to a purpose, to a role.

And so it is somewhat ironic and yet terribly appropriate that this Sunday, the Baptism of Jesus is celebrated. This is a launching, a new beginning. And it is John the Baptist who describes himself as “unworthy” in Mark 1:7-11. He understands the “greater than” as well as his own mission. He chooses commitment, purpose. Conscious of who he was, and with a deep appreciation for other, John lives out his birthright. In our world where social media produces influencers without discrimination, such humility is a rare privilege. John the Baptist models a gift that inspires service, the ability to give without credit or recognition, to believe that a sense of purpose makes a difference for self and, more importantly, for others. Humility is born of that sense of knowing self and knowing something greater than self exists.

Acts 10:34-38 explores other dimensions of this. Phrases stand out in support: God is impartial to all, welcoming to all. There is no rigidity, no exclusion, no exception. That openness is there for all. John the Baptist embraced this, and his doing so indicates that opportunity is there for all. And then there is that final fragment: “He went about doing good 
and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him”
. This confides God’s presence with Jesus. Transcending millenia, the words echo the holiday season’s “Emmanuel”, “God with us”. In this very time, in the midst of our unworthiness, God is with us. The passage illustrates Jesus doing good. Good in his own way, just as each of us is called to do.

The Baptism of the Lord is a chance for each of us to re-launch. It is about realizing who we really are, that we, too, are unworthy and yet beloved. We, too, have the presence of God with us. We have the chance to live out role and mission with a clear purpose for the greater good. We, too, can resanctify the space that we are living in. We can choose what appears to be the least of all tasks. And we can be aware that humble service builds for the greater good, brings the touch of God to the messiness of human life and enables us to become more than what we were before. Baptism marks this new beginning; even unworthy as we are, the chance is there.

Hand carved

Roughly carved and painted with the soft strokes of a folk artist’s love, the figures are gentle testimony to the Gospel’s Nativity story. They bear the honest simplicity of faith; there is little adornment and yet no doubt about each character. There is a shepherd, two nuggets of sheep, Joseph and Mary and an inch long manger bearing a smiling child. And then the three kings, gifts and cultures defined by strokes and color. And so they speak in the very silence of their configuration.

Humility emanates from the scene. After all, it is about honoring the miracle of birth, a birth intriguing and even beguiling in implications. Most importantly, each character allows the Infant’s story to supersede and yet become part of their own. That is the shared task for all who dare to kneel before the manger or even fashion such figures. There is a trust in living and a hope in life that defies the complexities of 2020 and the mysteries of this millennium.

Inequalities collapse before this scene: economic class, gender, race, fail to delineate a hierarchy. Instead, it is about a shared vision and view of the world, the beauty of beginning again. The Nativity story invites each to that moment of realization, that here is a chance to begin again wherever we are, whatever the chricumstances are. It invites us to realize the strength and beauty of others, to trust in the goodness that is born in them and the wonder that draws them, too, to the manger.

It is unnerving to dispose of the pretenses that life provides: the roles, the choices, the impressions and even the narratives. But here, before the manger, none of those are needed. To dare to conspire with the divine, the self must dare to be known in every phase of reality. Kneeling there means realizing life is continually exploring the wonder of relationships, of the dance between the human and the divine. It means accepting that life is difficult and challenging, but love sustains and empowers. It means brokenness, imperfection, and confusion are part of what it means to be human. Before the manger, this is known and understood. A handful of tiny, handcarved figures confide greater secrets than we may have imagined, but most importantly, they invite us to a deeper, stronger, epiphany.

“Epiphany” is an insight, a deepened understanding, a recognition of something that always was but now can be seen. In the history of the Church, the three kings arrival is celebrated as the Epiphany. “Epiphany” is so much more: it belongs to everyone who embraces the journey and dares to seek the Child in the manger. Discovering more about who we are and what exactly is “divine” is the chance given to all of us, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the strong and the fearful. Daring to be simple, daring to believe. Daring to hold the hand carved figures and wonder what the message really is for me.