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Believers

April 11, 2021. Second Sunday of Easter. Spring’s bravest bulbs welcoming the warmth. Rising vaccination rates and rising COVID cases. Life and death cycling endlessly in our linear lives. New learnings emerging with every day. Losses and miracles linger together in memory’s landscape; goodness and hope resist, persist, untarnished by bursts of violence, self-centered greed, and cruel stigmas. And so the octave of Easter pries open the best of who we can be right next to the raw truths of who we are, opening the door to the promised tomorrow. From the very beginning, the readings of the day glow with transformative love.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind…” are the opening words of the First Reading. So brief, so simple, so powerful. Community. BELIEVERS. One heart. One mind. There is an alluring power in the cadence of the words, and a tone confiding a fullness of joy, the kind of love that welcomes, heals and binds; the kind of love that is judgment free and freely given. There is a vivid life here that spills into the Second Reading from the First Letter of John. Believers trust that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God; that common denominator is the foundation for visibly choosing goodness, choosing to love, to follow the commandments. The joy of believing in the resurrrection, of knowing within. the love of God, is the Easter invitation re-issued and shows the very best of human beings embracing goodness and hope, being changed by love.

But this Sunday offers far more in the words of the Gospel. There is the fear of Apostles locked within the Upper Room, a fear dissipated by “Peace be with you…” and the missioning to create the community itself. But juxtaposed with this liberating sense of promise and hope is the reality fo who we are: skeptics and doubters, all embodied in the outspoken Thomas. Thomas is more than a doubter, and his uncertainty was not necessarily mistrust of his peers. Instead, there is a wonderful way in which Thomas is personally invited and personally embraces the reality of the resurrected Jesus, His appearance. That invitation goes to all humanity. Death is transformed into the life of love: the experience of Jesus generates connections to Him and to one another. It all occurs within the shadow of the grief of the cross.

In a time of such wild transitions and change, the simplicity of Scripture speaks across the centuries. The dignity of the readings is anchored to the reality of human needs and hopes and purpose. Unadorned by images, lyrics, illustrations, words capture rich realities with the tender perspective of persons who carried a truth greater than themselves and dared to share it, to allow it to be spread to new believers and then to new generations. Taking the time for each word to find its home in heart is what Thomas experienced first hand. And now, in a world gripped by 21st century sensibilities and issues, enraptured by the concepts of scientific data and well-being, buried in a cacophony of media, the stories, the words, speak again. In the midst of doubt and questioning, hearing and listening opens the door to transformative love. There is no doubt, then, why this Sunday is designated Divine Mercy Sunday.

Changed, not Ended

A few days ago, a colleague did not arrive at work. His absence caused the usual consternation, rush to arrange coverage and inevitable irritability. Then came the unexpected: he had passed away in his home, in his sleep, in the night. In daylight, we grappled with that truth and the incredible change his passing represented. I wondered for a moment at the grace of it for him, and then the struggles ahead for those who knew and loved him, for the survivors. Two camps of thought clamored for attention among his colleagues: how to take care of ourselves in the shock, and how to move forward with the least disruption. The first garnered lots of textbook responses, and the second focused purposefully on process and goals. There was no mention of the person, no time to think about the meaning of his life and its entanglements with ours. It was really all about us. That makes the response almost the antithesis of an Easter moment, and the Gospel calls to so much more than that. The Gospel is all about daring to be involved, daring to love and to believe Love bears all things.

In John chapter 20, Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb of Jesus. Her act of love becomes a mission to inform others. The stone was rolled away. Jesus’ body was missing. She sought help.

So she ran and went to Simon Peter 
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, 
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter 
and arrived at the tomb first; 
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him, 
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, 
and the cloth that had covered his head, 
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in, 
the one who had arrived at the tomb first, 
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture 
that he had to rise from the dead.

Death is the common denominator to all our lives, but we fail to grasp the breadth of its scope or the depth of its impact. In grief, they were bewildered. The possibilty of Resurrection could not be entertained. And so, of curse, they did not understand. Truthfuly, neither do we. Even after decades of experiences and lifetimes of study, we are always only beginning to understand elements of the story and how it interfaces with our lives. Allowing oursleves the freedom to grow, to learn, to know the finitude and limitations of humanity enables us to continue. Each of us grasps at different elements to find anchors for life and for meaning; the other readings point towards that. There is Peter’s gradual discovery and understanding of Jesus’ life and mission, and his own embrace of the mantle of leadership. But that shift is actually an invitation to all of us to allow for the importance of something we cannot see, hear or touch, but can believe. Then the second reading shows how life is changed by belief, how this kind of commitment changes who we are and what we are about. Even in our lack of understanding, we can be touched by and drawn to belief.

Picture Mary again, pausing at the opening of the tomb, and the belief and love that brought her to that moment. There to grieve and mourn, she was not yet aware that her relationship with Jesus was changed, not ended. She ran to those who also loved Him, and they were able to be bewildered together. Belief means trusting in the power of love and relationship, in the intimacy of personal commitment and choice, within the broader context of community. It means remembering the stories, treasuring the lessons, discovering the depths. Just as Mary crept towards that crypt, just as Peter and the other disciple came forward, belief builds real and genuine connections among people, draws people closer to one another so they can interact together.

The Easter Gospel is a reminder that our stories matter so much more than we realize. Sharing the stories is a reminder life is never really all about us. It is always about other, always about reaching out and sharing, searching and caring together. It is always about coming to understand that there is so much we do not understand. And that is okay. There is a God who has already shown each of us how very much we matter to Him in the story of the cross. And a God who shows how very much he is still with us in the love which births the Eucharist. Daring to trust that means there is so much more to life than we can ask or imagine.

Rest in peace, Blake. Enjoy perpetual light!

Palm

Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. The humble palms are the heralds of the Passover holiday celebration and the very public celebrity of Jesus. But the story has a timeless relevance and is not one trapped in the annals of time. Instead, it is alive with the the congruence of human experience and the textures of human connections. The Gospel of Mark exposes the moment of Jesus’ time in Jerusalem as entirely relevant to the realities of 2021. That journey by a band of compatriots yeilds the best and the worst of us: heartbreaking betrayal, the tragedy of injustice and the cruelty of derision. And in so many ways, it mirrors moments in our lives and times.

Those on-top-of-the-world moments are encased in our own century,too, but are no less real. Jesus’ practical self awareness enabled him to identify the almost capricious sense of celebrity. He had garnered criticism and negative feedback on other occasions. Here, steeped in the Judaic tradition of Passover, he gathers and then hosts the meal which seals the bonds of identity and purpose. But he intimates so much more: in the breaking of the bread, he is deepening the connections to one another, enabling and empowering a connection to share; even in physical absence, there can be spiritual presence. And so the story starts with the strengths and benefits of companionship.

But there is the bitter and brokenness of betrayal, a trust forsaken. Just as the start indicates the instatiable human appetite to connect with another, the next passages testify to the realities of human choices and behaviors. There is a madness to it that reflects the mob mentalities of our time. And yet, Jesus, as a victim, observes and interacts with a freedom and a confidence. He dared to accept the remarkable limits of what it means to be human; in fact, he lived them. There is the arrest and the questioning, the harsh rejection of the crowd who preferred to save Barrabus. Jesus’ presence becomes his voice, and his voice is entirely silent. There are no protests, no objection, so condemnations or accusations from him. He endures the cruel derision of the crowd, the blistering of the bullies, the humiliation of ridicule. Centuries have not diminished the human capacity for such cruelty, and social media seems to have multiplied opportunities for that.

Jesus even confronts the intricacies of social structures in the story of the Passion. There is the judicial ritual, the Pharisees and the calamitous crowd jutting up against the dispassionate Romans. Centuries later, national and ethnic identities aside, all lives are lived within this network of “invisible” systems that determine the course of social evernts. Jesus dealt with that reality just as we do. The palm is a reminder of human reality, our own included.

Finally, there were the women who asked for his body and there was the kindness of Joseph of Armithea. Those connections, that kindess, marks the love and relationships that sustained companionship and community, that ultimately overcame the cruelty and the injustices. Palm Sunday is an invitation to enter into the fullness of human relationship, to realize that there is an invitation to believe here, to model as Jesus does, to forgive the broken trusts and to keep working on moving forward. The truth is that understanding and appreciating Palm Sunday is really about understanding and appreciating what it means to be human. Suffering is an inevitable part of that, but so is hope. Limitations are human realities, and Jesus not only observes that but exhibits it in calling out to the Father, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knows, shares, the despair of human life.

To be human is to be complicated. Palm in all its simplicity, reminds us that life is difficult, failure is frequent, and Jesus is with us. Always.

Lazarus

“Terminal truth telling.” The therapist tossed that phrase out in casual conversation. She wondered at the compulsion to share deply personal stories publicly. Where was the thought about impact? Outcomes?Consequences? On this Fifth Sunday of Lent. the phrase still haunts and beguiles. So many voices have given narratives of personal realities; the stories and claims are overwhelming. Determining what is real and true is increasingly difficult. And yet, sincerity and authenticity are so necessary, so real. And so it is that the Gospel this week features Lazarus freed from the tomb in a narrative that whispers of rich relationship, clear connections and honest communication.

Relationship drew Jesus back to Judea, to Lazarus’ home. There are so many clues in the reading from John 11. There is honest conversation between Martha and Jesus, and there are the evangelist’s gentle observations about love being at home there. There is Martha’s understanding about the teachings of Jesus, and there is Jesus’ view of the situation as well. The words carry the complexity born of human communication: coming to grips with what is perceived, and becoming aware of what more is possible. So much is packed into succinct phrases; so much interpretation has dissected and analyzed the story. But at heart is the reality of the relationships, the connections, and the communicating. Lent is about each of those, and the story of Lazarus is a reminder that this is a caring, loving God wo accepts who and what we are as human beings and actively seeks the strength and sincerity of relationship.

The first and second readings are the anchors for this story of Lazarus. The first is from the prophet Ezekiel, and the words are a promise:

Thus says the Lord GOD: 
O my people, I will open your graves 
and have you rise from them, 
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, 
when I open your graves and have you rise from them, 
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live, 
and I will settle you upon your land; 
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD

The real, the authentic, is resting underneath the miraculous in the passage. The key is coming to know the Lord, and rising from the graves is how that will happen. And the second reading is the promise from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It is about the Spirit of God living within. It is all about the connections. the reality, the communication between God and human beings. And so there is testimony in the Gospel that what really matters is believing and loving, being in relationship.

That said, the Gospel is something of a skeleton without the embellishment of intricate detail or the rich fabric of further dialogue. There is more than enough to convey the message, and little enough so the reader can enter the passage, the time. There is sincerity and authenticity in every word, and there is clarity and truth in belief. The story has an impact, and belief has a consequence, a clear, definable consequence. It is a story told with purpose, preserved with hope and shared on this Fifth Sunday of Lent with an invitation to believe.

In our time

We live in our time, born in years and months and days, with luck, stretching through decades. We are born to beliefs, experiences, possibilities; we are born well within the structure and shadows of human systems. There are layers to the human birthright– parents and lifestyle, class and race, ethnicity and gender. Those define so much of who we are, how we communicate and even what we dream and hope for. Some seem to escape the tentacles of these varied factors and burst into privilege and celebrity seemingly and enviably unscathed by human trauma or suffering. But there are so many more of us who have found nobility, honor and hope in the labor of simply being alive. For those, reality profers a rare richness and a consoling comfort, a promising pragmatism. The fullness and emptiness of the human lifespan finds meaning, significance and purpose in all the simplicity of being. And so in this fourth week of Lent, Laetare Sunday, it is the simplicity of living the Light.

John’s Gospel lingers with the image of light but does more than that. The opening verses describe the profound purpose of Jesus’ presence in the world: not to condemn, but to invite to belief in a God who neither castigates nor compels. Instead, this is a God who tenderly invites, shares and sacrifices for love. The believer, in response, embraces that love and then extends the same to others; the halo of light is enhanced and becomes even more of a gift.

There is a second part to it: God accompanies each human on the journey of living. Belief in God is all about that companionship. There is no magic promised, no disappearance of human suffering or mitigation of human pain in reutrn for belief. Instead, this is about living each day with a companion consistently searching for goodness, for the best of what it is to be human in even the most difficult of circumdstances. Goodness to one another manifests the God who revels in the best of the human spirit and accepts the broken, the failings, the poor chocies, and awaits another chance. Human beings are made co-conspirators with God for goodness and light for one another in the very midst of all the challenges of human life. Companionship: no condemnation, no judgment. But there is more tucked into these readings of the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the seocnd reading for today carries a striking line:

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works 
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them

Light and simplicity nestle here as well. There is the indomitable trust that goodness is there in God and all God’s works. Ours is to “live in them”. Notably absent are threats for non-compliance, or condemnation for choices. Instead, there is the beckoning of the brightest stars in the darkness of a midnight sky. “Living in them” leaves every human being, every generation, the freedom to live in our time and to explore and to choose, over and over, goodness. Laetare Sunday addresses that significance of choice as well in the first reading. It is from the book of Chronicles whose prose confides the history of the Jewish people and completes the Hebrew Bible.

Like a bridge, the passage links the themes of human failure and the forgiveness and generosity of God. It describes repeated poor choices of humans, the frustration of God, and then the opening, the forgiveness and new beginning: light and simplicity. There is an irony in the all too human emotional God of the passage. But there is also the ultimate conclusion, the new beginning, of building a house of God. Laetare Sunday is like that: it si an invitation to become a builder of a new world and a better life. It is a call that goes out to every human being in each generation, over all time. It is from God who is greater than, transcends huan limitations, and gently radiates Light in every time, every generation, every system, every life. And so we live in our time, within the human systems, companioned by God.

Simply Living

All around us are the signs of recovery from the pandemic: the rollout of vaccines, the relaxing of restrictions, the return to school and the gentle, tenative whispers of spring. A year of restricted and quarantined living has been something of a Lenten experience, a time to regauge, reflect and remember. In the past weeks and months, the best and worst elements of our culture have struggled for dominance, demanded attention and sought realignment and purpose. In the midst of all that, accompanied by the sharp chill of a cold front, the Third Sunday of Lent arrives. There is a striking simplicity in it, in the readings and the Gospel, that both beguile and befuddle. But it is there, consistent and insistent, waiting to be heard.

That simplicity is clearly present in the first reading. The Book of Exodus, a story of change and struggle, provides the framework, but the passage itself was perhaps the precursor of guides to well being and health.

In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
“I, the LORD am your God, 
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished 
the one who takes his name in vain.

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother, 
that you may have a long life in the land 
which the Lord, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, 
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, 
nor anything else that belongs to him.”

Behind the words lies the reality of choice, of human nature, of who we are and what we are capable of. The words address identity, belonging, respect, and interacting. They are about recognizing both the finiteness of self and the infinite impact each has on others. They are a testimony to the wealth and treasures of human life, and to the cost of living itself. Most of all, they convey the very complicated issues and concerns that every generation struggles with. In other words, these are words, lines, that capture how very hard it is to be human. But they also offer a rich possibility by suggesing the better ways to be, the choices that can enable us to be more and better than we were before. Best of all, there is a God who understands that very complex terrain and knows the range of emotions and the context of time.

It is all there in the Gospel of John. So often, the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple is an affirmation of human anger, or interpreted with the stigma of stereotypes or even used to justify violence. But the truth of the story, the most powerful of lines, is often overshadowed by the vividness of that description.

“…But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”

And there it is, halfway through Lent, a tiny caveat of truth and comfort. A God who understands human nature, who loves and forgives, acknowledges human limits, flaws and faults, and still invites us to make choices freely, to know ourselves and one another, to celebrate what it is to be human in ways that show honor and respect for each other and for God.

In a world grappling with the harshest of 21st century realities, taking a moment to consider the transcendent, the most basic and fundamental of human needs, can be done with the simplest of passages. We are who we are as humans; the Third Sunday of Lent is a reminder that we each bear the gift and the burden of that. And so does Jesus. Because of that, we are never truly alone on the human journey: the persistent love of God for each of us is there, and we have the choice to make that even more manifest for one another by living simply and simply living.

Privilege

Winter’s white wrapped New England in a sparkling mantle through February. Glittering under street lights and lingering on rooftops, snow has given way now to a taste of Spring. Newsfeeds are still devoured by bitter politicking, violence and disorder. Vaccines have been rolled out, and a nation has been energized by the idea that, once again, human innovation, competition and courage have combined to overcome what once appered to be an insurmountable crisis. Ironically, this success does not rest in the hands of leaders or politicians or even the scientists. Each of those definitely has a part, a role, a place; success belongs to the individuals who have mobilized to make it work. At a local pharmacy, a tired and incredibly competent team was vaccinating 50 people an hour. There was patience with questions and quirks, and care in explanations and recommendations. If this was a war, that staff was the foot soldiers. Suddenly, the Congressional bickering and high profile bitterness was silenced by individuals making it happen. One nurse commented that giving the vaccines was the privilege of his career; another said how happy he was to help. This is who we are and what we are about and it all links to Lent.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, that ability to be present, to choose to listen and make a difference is woven through the readings. We are seeing it happen all around us now, and we can hear in stories thousands of years old that this is part of what it means to be human. Each of the readings touch on a different dimension of that reality. Abraham’s voice in the Old Testament reading is rich: “Here I am, Lord!” That moment, that response is ours to share. The passage highlights a test of fidelity, asking an impossible offering: Abraham is to slay his son Isaac at God’s request. God rescinds the request, and a lamb is offered. Its graphic nature has been intensely analyzed, dissected, and interpreted. But the essence of it comes down to Abraham’s singular response, “Here I am…” Today, so many medical professionals and volunteers are willing to say, “Here I am..” and begin to turn back the tidal wave of COVID.

The Responsorial Psalm captures relationship as well: “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.” To respond to god, to meet the demand, is to walk hand in hand with God, to celebrate life and those first signs of spring as well as the winter’s wonders. Being human is about being in relationships with purpose and conviction, with kindness and caring. Faith and freedom can be found in the sense that God really IS in relationship with humanity. The Second Reading from the Letters of Paul presents a powerful phrase. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In the arena of scholarship, this has known many interpretations. Maybe the key thing for 2021 is to consider it most simply: God is present. We can respond, “Here I am…”, and we can believe that God practices the most tender presence. That bond is built to enable us to move forward, to continue to grow. All of that is epitomized in the Gospel of Mark story. Jesus in transfigured into that sparkling white figure, joined by Moses and Elijah. The disciples wish to preserve the moment and advocate the building of tents, establishing homes. Then the words come, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” And everything comes back to the vitality of the exchange, the meaning of the relationship, the speaking and listening and living. Nothing happens without that.

Mindful of who we are and where we are in this world in this second week of Lent, we can form and nurture and refine the ability to listen, really listen, and to speak, really speak, so that we can act freely and justly. To do so is to make the world a better place than it was before. Like the nurses administering vaccines, this is the real privilege of our lives.

Lent and Listen

Storms swept across the United States this week with destructuve wrath. The metaphorical storm that rages found itself realized in the physical losses and catastrophic destruction. Hopes for a sense of unity have not yet found hearts open and willing; even in the midst of great wanting, the political bickering and social divergences have reigned. And yet, the first Sunday of Lent has found us as we labor with our own angry frustrations, the pandemic and vaccinations, uncertainities and fears. It is time to lay down the armor of anger, the distractions of social media, the attitudes of condescension and self-righteous certainty. It is time to listen.

Sheer delight resides in the idea that civilization can somehow be saved by the whimsical construction of an ark. Animals in magical pairs preserve the living environment, and somehow a mere mortal, Noah, makes it all happen. The first reading is from Genesis, and it is a profound reminder of the risks and joys of being human. The essence of the story is not the construction of the ark itself or even the machinations that Noah went through. If you really listen, you can hear that it is really all about God, the aftermath of the flood, and the promise of a covenant. Instead, it is a covenant offered by God with a sign, the rainbow, of that undying commitment to what has been created. Somehow, the storms subside, and the fidelity of sunrise remains.

There are echoes of that in the second reading from 1 Peter. The flood is interpreted as prefiguring Baptism. But here again, listening opens new doors. Baptism is redefined; it is not about washed clean. Instead, it is about asking God for a clear conscience. Conscience is the gift, the opportunity, to wrestle with the challenges every human being faces every day. It is what enables us to balance the idea of individual identity and the realities of collective identity. It is the place where goodness is empowered and selfishness is recognized and named. Conscience is what enables us to challenge narcissim and fully engage in something greater than self. it is there if we choose to use it, develop it, and share it.

Finally, there is the Gospel of this first Sunday of Lent 2021. There is Jesus, in the midst of the desert, tempted by Satan, fully and gloriously human. But listening to it again tells so much. Jesus survived that hazardous time, the trial and the tribulation. He was cared for by the angels and when he returns, he proclaims that the Kingdom is at hand. Believe in the Gospel! Believe in the Good News.

Listening goes far beyond the hearing of words. Listening allows for the possiblity of learning, of changing, of becoming more than what we are now. But in a world filled with sounds of all sorts, daring to really listen requires more than swiping to a site. It is about allowing the words to find a home within, a cadence that can cultivate conscience and a truth that transcends the terrain of tumult. Lent itself is an invitation to that. There are thousands of reasons to turn away, to stop listening and even hearing, to deny and to denigrate. But even those choices will not compromise the covenant of Noah, permute the promise of Peter or silence the reality of the Spirit.

Lent is the season where it all rests in our hands, our hearts….if only we listen.

Touch

Lent begins this week: Shrove Tuesday and then Ash Wednesday followed by the laborious weeks of Lenten Sundays. But the week itself begins with the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, and the readings point to the essentials of faith and choices. There is the stirring Gospel account of Jesus healing a leper who is asked to tell no one, but who simply cannot contain the joy of the change. There is Paul’s urging to do everything for the glory of God in the second reading from 1 Corinthians. And there is the rebuke of the lepers in the Old testament reading: their task would be to stay away from others for the good of all. So what is it all saying?

Our lives are not lived in isolation: as human beings, we belong to and with one another. We share strengths and flaws, illness and disease, hopes and fears. We act each day, making choices that impact others with or without that recognition or acknowledgement. And what we do, how we do it, matters. Putting others before self is a tall order, yet there is virtue, even nobility, in it. The lepers of the past made that sacrifice in the face of inevitable progressive decline and terrible cost. Consider this, though: who is making that sacrifice today? Who has the courage to deny self in the name of helping and healing others?

Look carefully: they are everywhere. The young mother carrying her child into a clinic. An elderly grandfather shoveling the driveway for his neighbor. The firefighter scooping up a pet. The nurse organizing a family visit. The bride and groom standing outside the nursing home window. The parent driving a clunker so a son has college tuition. The cop who spends free time at a youth center and the teacher who visits students at home. Putting others before self happens every day, and it often goes without credit or accolades. That’s where Paul comes in with a reminder about motivation.

Why we do things matters. 1 Corinthians suggests putting aside personal gain. Do it for the glory of God. Go beyond just doing it. Do it without the expectation of reward, payback or even recognition. Do it because it is the right ting to do, the good thing to do. It is not all about opportunity cost or hidden benefits. It is about making a difference with trust and confidence that you are living as part of soething greater than yourself!

Purpose

New England is riding rough and tumble into Super Bowl celebrations. Rounding out the refreshments and planning for the game are preoccupying householders everywhere. Threats of another storm, COVID vaccine distribution and the arrival of tax season are not derailing the pride and the purpose of Tom Brady’s tenth Super Bowl performance. The pursuit of the exceptional and the promise of excellence are propelling past the mundane realities of February’s fury. Still, eyes and hearts are clinging to comfort in the familiar ritual of football’s Super Bowl. The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time charges us with the same tasks with clarity and direction.

The sorrow of Job’s story seeps from every line in the first reading. He laments the brevity of life, the quickness of loss and the expiration date of happiness. But there is a counterpoint to the anxiety and the depression in the Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 147.

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
    he calls each by name.

Deftly juxtaposed with Job’s sorrow is the promise of a gentle, loving God who embraces that broken heart and spirit. This is a God who does not wave a magic wand, but a God who tenderly gathers the bruised and the broken and binds wounds just as surely as hearts. This is a God who relates, who touches, who claims, who heals. This is the God who embraces the forlorn Job and makes a difference: a God who actually serves, who meets the needs of the very human persons who are before him.

That image explodes with significance: these are not human beings begging subservience to a higher power, playing with superstitious offerings or searching for symbolic shields. Instead, this is about the reality of relationship between the Creator and the Created. It is born of love, of compassion, and reveals the wholesome nature of the most ordinary of beings. We are each Job; we are each broken and emptied, sorrowful and lost at different times. We are also incredibly loved and cared for by a God of dynamic and imaginative energy who cradles our sorrows and companions us through the storms of our not-quite-as-mundane-as-we-thought-lives.

God as companion is both an enticing and elusive concept. But then there is the Gospel, and clarity arrives:

Rising very early before dawn, he left 
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come
.”

Relationship with God, with that “something greater than self”, is discovered, maintained and nurtured in prayer, in the mystery of Quiet whenever that arrives or is discovered or is chosen. Jesus opens the door to understanding with humble simplicity: his actions model his priorities and then fuel his purpose. Purpose. In this, too, Jesus models a unique and enviable self-awareness. But it is also an invitation to find that same anchor in human life, to discover our personal and unique purpose, to live it to the full.

The Super Bowl is only a sideshow that offers entertainment, connects with pride and shows some living out a sense of purpose. The Gospel invites each person to find the space and the place where living out true purpose is really possible every day of the year.