Sunday, October 6, 2013


The second most frequently heard comment?  "Look!  His beard is back!"

   Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time    
“Would you do it again?”
That’s the question I’m getting asked most often
“Would you do it again?”
And I keep giving the very same answer: 
“Not right now!”

I don’t regret for a moment going on the trek.
It was a truly incredible—
dare I say life-changing?—experience.
But there were more than a few moments 
on our ten-day journey
when I wasn’t sure if I’d make it 
all the way through this first time.
Now, I really wanted to complete the trip,
but the growing number of blisters on my feet,
my knees aching from the terrain 
and shoulders from the pack,
often had me wondering—
especially after the first couple of days—
if I actually could finish…or even should.

The Apostles this Sunday seem to be experiencing
a little discouragement themselves.
“Increase our faith!” they beg the Lord.
Turn back a few pages in the gospel,
and you begin to see why they’re having doubts.
Jesus has been presenting them
with some rather challenging teachings:
how they ought to use their money—
not for selfish gain, but in the service of the poor;
the binding nature of marriage,
excluding both adultery and divorce;
the call to continual forgiveness—
no matter how often a brother or sister should wrong them;
and the need to put absolutely nothing—
not worldly success, not family relationships,
not even their own lives—
ahead of the call to follow him.

A full twenty centuries later,
and these are many of the very same teachings
that still test and confound us.
We can understand all-too-well
why the Apostles’ faith doesn’t seem up to the task.

You no doubt have heard by now
that Pope Francis has been giving a lot of interviews lately.
In the longest and most famous of the bunch,
the Pope had this to say about those times
when our faith seems inadequate:

Yes, in this quest to seek and find God…
there is still an area of uncertainty.
There must be.
If a person says that he met God 
with total certainty
and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty,
then this is not good.
For me, this is an important key.
If one has the answers to all the questions—
that is the proof that God is not with him.
It means that he is a false prophet
using religion for himself.
The great leaders of the people of God, 
like Moses,
have always left room for doubt.
You must leave room for the Lord,
not for our certainties;
we must be humble.…

The risk…is the willingness to explain too much,
to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’
We will find only a god that fits our measure.…
Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto,
in which all is written down;
but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing....
We must enter into the adventure
of the quest for meeting God;
we must let God search and encounter us.…

God is encountered walking, along the path.…
God is always a surprise,
so you never know where and how you will find him.
You are not setting the time and place
of the encounter with him.…

If the Christian…wants everything clear and safe,
then he will find nothing.…
In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.
I have a dogmatic certainty:
God is in every person’s life.
God is in everyone’s life.
Even if the life of a person has been a disaster,
even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—
God is in this person’s life.
You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.
Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds,
there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.
You have to trust God.

According to the Pope—and that’s on pretty good authority—
if we’re still wrestling with questions,
if we haven’t given up looking for the answers,
then we’re OK.
Living with uncertainly,
being open to the God of surprises,
means being humble enough to accept
that mustard seed faith is actually all we need.

The sin-driven human desire to be in control—even of God—
spills over into how we relate to others, and to life itself.
On this Respect Life Sunday,
we do well to heed these words
of contemporary French philosopher Fabrice Hadjadj:

Think, for example, of the fear of life.
Life is no longer accepted as it is given;
people try to transform it starting from an idea.
Then, instead of welcoming a child, we make a product.
Starting from a design of perfection,
we reduce the being to its functions.
Instead of perfection, we get a degradation…

How we believe—if we believe—
has real life consequences.
Grasp too tightly our notions of God—
limit God to our narrow conceptions of him—
and we soon do the same to one another.
People become not mysteries to be welcomed and loved,
but objects to be used—or eliminated:
whether it’s a human embryo destroyed for purposes of research,
a sweatshop worker making my clothes for cheap,
or a pornographic performance playing on my computer screen.
We ought to share Pope Francis’ “dogmatic certainty”:
God is in every person’s life.
We can, we must try to seek God in every human life—
from its earliest moments of conception until its last natural breath.

If we need a model of how to live with a mustard seed faith,
we have only to look to the Virgin Mary.
Mary didn’t have a degree in theology,
but she knew—from the experience of her parents,
from the experience of her people,
from the experience of her own young life—
that God could be trusted.
Mary believed that the safest course of action—
even if marked by great uncertainty,
even if she couldn’t see where it might be headed—
is always to cooperate with God’s plan,
always to say yes to his will.
It means following a way of humility:
of recognizing the servant’s place before the Master;
of dutifully obeying the divine command;
of simply doing what any of us are obliged to do.
Mary knew that it would stretch and challenge her.
And it would downright hurt sometimes to walk that path.
By faith, she continued on.
And so must we.

Ten days and 120 miles in the woods
stretched and challenged me in ways
I am still only beginning to understand.
Now that I’m off the trail I realize
that, in those moments when I was gripped
by discouragement and uncertainty,
it wasn’t that my faith was too small;
it’s that my sights were set too far ahead.
Rather than fretting about the next 50 miles,
I needed to give my full attention to just the next few steps
because God was already providing me in that moment
with everything I could need—and more.

This little anonymous poem I came across on Friday
sums it up so well:

The road of life was bright
and stretched before my sight.
The Lord was at my side
to be my friend and guide.
And so I started out.

But then the sky grew dark,
the road grew stark and steep.
Rocks and ruts cut my feet,
my legs grew sore and weak.
I turned and cried, “My Lord!
Why this pain, why this plight?
Why this darkness, where’s the light?
I cannot carry on.”

And then the Lord replied, “My child!
Why this fear, why this fright?
I’m your companion still.
Just trust in Me and travel on,
For Heaven lies beyond the hill.”

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