This Sunday’s readings are one of those rare and wonderful times when we hear an original story from the Hebrew Scriptures, and then Jesus quotes the story in his teaching. In the Book of Genesis we hear the second story of Creation when God creates the first man and woman, making them suitable partners for one another. We see that God intends for us to live in community, and that we thrive and are most fulfilled when we have others to share our lives with—particularly in the context of family. When questioned on divorce, Jesus affirms God’s intention for us, instructing us on the life-giving nature of marriage and the commitment, unity and salvation that marriage has to offer us. He also brings children to himself, embracing and blessing them, showing everyone what a special gift they are. They bring joy and holiness to a family and remind us of how we should interact with God—like children dependent on their loving Father.
Most of the time, when I’m watching a movie or TV show, I can see right through it. I catch the foreshadowing and can predict what’s coming (and sometimes dialogue—which means that it must be pretty poorly written). I have worked in pastoral ministry for almost 20 years. That means that I should be able to see a lie coming from a mile away.
But, last week’s episode of Doctor Who, “The Witch’s Familiar” had my poor brain in a tizzy. I should have seen through Davros’ act—he even gave himself away early in the conversation when he called “compassion” in the Daleks a “defect.” He told The Doctor that compassion “grows strong and fierce in you like a cancer” and that it “will kill you in the end,” to which The Doctor replied, “I wouldn’t die of anything else.” “You may rely on it.” Davros warned. I mean, he completely laid it out there. He said it flat out. Could he have been more obvious?!
But, I got sucked in to his tears. I got sucked into his apparent remorse right along with The Doctor.
My little family and I went to see Pope Francis in Central Park yesterday. As you can see from the picture, we were blessed with a pretty good spot in the crowd (thanks to my husband’s cousin, Tim, who got us the tickets!).
This was no casual day trip to the city. This was a pilgrimage, with all that that word implies.
‘Flags, flags, flags . . . ‘
It was a super-long day. We left our house to catch a train to NYC at 7:00 a.m. (my husband led us in a quick prayer as we set off), and when we got to the train station later than we wanted, tensions were running high. The train ride was better—it was a first for both of my boys—and everyone relaxed and watched the sights (mostly run-down buildings with interesting graffiti).
As we walked through the city, it was discovered (through whining and grumbling) that everybody was hungry and needed to find suitable “facilities.” We found a neat-looking restaurant and everybody was happy.
Sunday, September 27, 2015 (26th Sunday Ordinary Time, B)
Today’s Readings offer us two themes:
- That anyone who is working for God, whether we think they are fit for it or not, is welcome by God and
- That people who are too focused on wealth or prestige are heading for disaster. God clearly calls all of us to properly prioritize our values, making God and serving God’s people number one.
In fact, the Gospel warns us that if anyone in any kind of authority (i.e., community leaders, teachers, parents, older siblings, or clergy) leads someone smaller than themselves (that could mean younger, less experienced, less educated, more impressionable, or even someone under that person’s authority) into sinful behavior, that the person in authority is responsible. If we model good behavior like welcoming, sharing, caring, protecting and loving for the small ones than we will be rewarded. These two themes are dependent on one another—if our priority is God, we will not begrudge anyone else who is trying to do the same. And if we are welcoming of everyone’s efforts, then we will always be modeling good behavior by encouraging others toward a higher good.
In The Lord of the Rings, there are two characters who lose their names. Their names are stolen from them, really. Stolen by that thief, lust.
That poor, little dude Smeagol is the first of lust’s victims. Smeagol is the embodiment of lust. The way the power of the Ring works on him is so clear, so apparent, he should be under the definition of lust in the dictionary. It’s downright obvious.
And sometimes lust is downright obvious. Smeagol becomes Gollum almost instantly. His lust is so transformative, he kills his best friend within minutes of finding the Ring. His lust is so revolting that it serves as an immediate warning for anyone who meets him.
More often, however, I think lust is subtle, more deviously sneaky—and that’s when it is the most dangerous.
Both Gollum and Wormtongue lose themselves so completely to lust that they become someone else.
Take our second character, Grima, for instance. He’s slimy, he’s creepy, and he makes no bones about what he wants. Like Gollum, by the time we meet him, it’s clear what he’s about and nobody likes or trusts him… except for King Theoden.
Warning: Potential spoilers for folks who don’t get to watch cartoons in a timely fashion (a category in which I would normally be included).
Gravity Falls is one of my favorite cartoons currently on TV. This week’s episode, “The Last Mablecorn,” tackled an important issue—morality. While I’m seriously disappointed in the writer’s choice to have Mabel learn from her experience that “morality is relative,” there was a lot that was very useful in the episode, too. The Pine’s family needed unicorn hair to protect themselves from Bill Cipher, so someone of pure heart had to go retrieve it. Mabel, looking for adventure and known to be of particularly pure heart, went on the quest.
Candy, Brenda and Wendy went with her to collect it and they were willing to use evil means to accomplish their goal (they got involved with an illegal butterfly trade to get ill-gotten faerie dust needed to knock the unicorn out to steal its hair) when met with a disingenuous unicorn. This particular unicorn lied to Mabel, saying that it could see into her heart, and that she was not pure. Mabel was surprised, but accepted it—looking to fix her heart by doing good deeds. Nothing she did was good enough for the unicorn to acknowledge that she was a good person. When push came to shove (and actually, it did eventually come to fisticuffs), Mabel wasn’t willing to let her friends steal the hair.
As I stood with my oldest son waiting for the bus to take him to his freshman orientation at half past ridiculous o’clock this morning, I was very much feeling like one of those creepy Old Spice moms. It was his first time taking a bus to school—he went to Catholic elementary, and we lived out of district, so I drove him every day—AND I worked right across the parking lot from where he and his brother were. We chatted a little as we waited for the bus, and he made a point (as he does) of making sure that I see how he towers over me now. I tried to hold it together when I saw the bus coming, but the sound I made startled the poor boy. I said a quick good-bye (kissing him before the bus arrived to make sure I didn’t embarrass him) and then bolted for the house to cry in my coffee like a jerk. He got on the bus like nothing, greeted the driver (politely!) and went about his day.
I was sucked right back to his first day of pre-k. We stood outside the school with the other kids and their parents, but back then, he would let me hold his tiny, pudgy hand—I couldn’t imagine the meat hooks he’d have now. When it was time to go in, that little, independent man said, “I don’t want to go in there.” I said, “You have to.” And, blurting out a little, “Okay!” he cheerfully ran inside—no kiss, no good-bye—just ran off to meet his destiny.
It’s bittersweet watching my boys grow up—I’m proud of who they are and what they are becoming, fearful of any pain or disappointment they may experience, suspicious (yet hopeful) of whatever girls might look at them, wondering if my husband and I gave them what they need to be good, holy people and anticipating how they will live out God’s calling for them.
So, I give them a little advice:
- Know who you are, and be true to it. Don’t let other people decide your tastes, interests, values and goals. True cool comes from being authentic—don’t be a phony. Remember Milli Vanilli, and Jose Canseco. They are old people who failed on an epic scale. Google it. Peer pressure is for chumps—it’s just insecure kids trying to get you to be insecure with them. You’re strong—be strong.
- Don’t gossip. Whether the information is true or not, harming another’s reputation is damaging to them, to the person you are trying to sway the opinion of and yourself. Would you want that news shared about you? Then, don’t share it about others. Would you want someone trying to decide your opinion of another instead of leaving that up to you? Then don’t do it to someone else.
- Tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate, take responsibility for your mistakes and say only what is true. Consider President Nixon…or Miley Cyrus…train wrecks. Don’t be one.
- Don’t say everything that occurs to you. Think about how it will affect others. Will it be hurtful, or build up the other person? If you are going to disagree with someone—is it important, or are you just showing off or being disagreeable for no reason? Did they say that Lord of the Rings is not the best book series ever? Defend it! Did they say that spring is the best season? Who cares! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
- Life is not a competition. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or has, or is wearing. Be content with what you have—I’m not getting you that stuff, anyway.
- The second guy always gets the foul. If someone does or says something to you that you don’t like, respond—don’t react. Not only will you be the one to get in trouble for lashing out, you give up your freedom in that situation. Instead of choosing how you would like to respond and keeping a cool head, you are giving up your will and becoming what you didn’t like to begin with. Like a supervillain.
- Guard your heart. Make one or two good friends—friends who will have your back and who’s back your feel comfortable having. Choose friends who will support you in doing good, will tell you when you’re wrong and who you can have fun with. You don’t always have to agree; it’s better if you don’t! Don’t give your heart—in friendship or in love—to someone who doesn’t respect you for who you are.
- Thank your teachers. Boy, do they put up with a lot. And they show up every day to try and get something useful into your noggin. Be grateful for all the people who are there helping, teaching, cleaning the school, driving the bus—and let them know that you are grateful.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or I wreck you. Or your dad, grandparents, or aunts, or uncles wreck you. We are in your corner and are always here to support you. And correct you. Because we love you.
- Besides having us in your corner, more importantly, you have God. Don’t forget the help, guidance, unconditional love and perfect, free gift that God is to you. God is there for you. Include God in everything you do and you won’t go wrong.
None of this advice is anything they haven’t heard before—and it’s certainly not a complete list—but it’s stuff I pray they’ll remember when they are away from me. Most of me is really looking forward to the great things that will unfold for them as they continue to grow and strike out on their own. But, a tiny part of me will continue to drink slightly salty coffee many mornings as I remember the cuddly little monsters that they were when they were small.
Back in the day it sometimes happened that women who were in abusive marriages were forced to stay with their husbands because they had no means of supporting themselves and social stigma would have made life unbearable for them if they had left; leaving their own lives, and sometimes the lives of their children in danger. They were entirely reliant on their spouse. They didn’t remain in the marriage because they wanted to, or because they were freely choosing it; but because they were stuck, fearful and had no other viable options. Such a situation is not the life-giving vocation that God intended marriage to be, and is not the loving relationship that God wants for anyone.
God is entirely self-sufficient. God is perfect, unchanging, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent all by Himself. God doesn’t need you to be happy. God doesn’t need you to follow His laws to be fulfilled. God doesn’t exist because of you, and heaven will not fall apart if you don’t eventually wind up there. God will be perfectly content whether you ever offer Him anything or not.
God neither gains nor loses anything by being nice to us. God neither gains nor loses anything by us accepting or rejecting Him. That puts God in a very interesting position. It puts God in the position of true generosity, perfect freedom in gift giving and removes any motive from initiating a relationship with us except the motive of love. God created us entirely out of this self-giving love, but doesn’t need us to reciprocate to be happy. God desires that we reciprocate for our own benefit; because love desires the good of the other and always wants to share the joy that it possesses. But God will not cease to have joy simply because someone rejects it.
I had a quick exchange with a friend last night that got me thinking about the different types of superheroes—they boy scout type like Superman and Captain America vs the ones who are teetering on the edge of justice like Batman and Wolverine. I have a sincere appreciation for the good, good guys. I need models of purity of heart—they offer me hope that people can truly offer themselves for the service of others with pure, unselfish motives. I love that; I’m attracted to it and strive to be like that in my daily life.
However…I am half Sicilian and half German—my very genetic make-up alone is high recommendation for supervillainry. Growing up small and ugly didn’t help. It has become my nature, or at least my initial instinct, to be somewhat suspicious of and guarded with people. I can also lash back with extreme effectiveness when attacked. I have had to curb that in myself. I frequently deal with verbal abuse from people, and my inclination is not to be friendly. I’d like to offer them the opportunity to “take a number.” I am required—by my Christianity and my profession—to respond in charity. Now, I don’t fancy myself a hero because I manage to eek out some self-control—I fancy myself still employed and not in jail.
For a year or two now, I’ve been wanting to write about a song that I love, “Waiting for Superman” by Iron and Wine, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say. As it happens, I had some time off a few weeks ago and finally got to see “Man of Steel,” and that song just kept ringing in my ears. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen:
The song (though not the least bit related to the movie) really captures the feel and the kind of heaviness of the movie (a general, and in my opinion, valid criticism that several friends have made about DC hero movies). Most of the movie is a sort of waiting for Superman—Clark is waiting to find himself, the viewer is waiting for him to find himself and the world, while not really knowing it, is waiting for him, too. Everyone needed him to be Superman, including himself. He was burdened by not knowing or living what he was meant to be—as Jor-El says, “…an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”