comfort and challenge

Sorry for the blog silence. I've been away at our intercommunity novitiate program the last two days. This week our community planned the 2 liturgies (we take turns). All went well. At our All Saint's Day liturgy today, I shared some reflections on the readings. It was interesting to find myself in a "preaching" capacity, especially as I think I need to hear this message as much as anyone. Nothing like the inner journey and living in community simultaneously to highlight (in neon letters it often seems) the areas where one needs to stretch. It's more like I was preaching to myself in a public forum! In any case, I thought I'd include my thoughts on this feast in light of today's readings for any that may be interested ....

Almost two months ago we gathered together in this Chapel as a new community and heard Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Today we hear the story again from Matthew’s perspective.

Fr. Mike shared with us our first week that in his experience, the Beatitudes are one of the most beloved Scripture passages of all time. Whenever parishioners have the opportunity to select readings for weddings or funerals, more often than not this is the Gospel passage chosen.

My own mother passed away three years ago last month. I was honored to plan her funeral mass, and yes I’ll admit it, this was indeed the Gospel reading I selected.

Why did I choose the Beatitudes? You can probably guess one of the reasons. It is kind of obvious …

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Who doesn’t want to be blessed and comforted at one of the hardest moments of their lives?

The Beatitudes give comfort in distressing times. They express the hope and promise of a loving God. “Yes times may be tough, but stick with me and I’ll take care of you.”

It’s not really any surprise, then, that they are so popular. But I wonder … what if we heard more of the challenge implicit in Jesus’ words? Would they still be on the regular rotation?

Henri Nouwen writes that “Jesus is drawing a self-portrait here and inviting his disciples to become like him.”

Poor. Meek. Justice-Seeking. Merciful. Peace-making. This is the self-portrait Jesus draws for us. This is the model he is inviting us to mirror in our own lives and relationships.

Jesus not only draws this portrait, he embodies it in the Gospels. His actions speak louder than words, and they are accompanied by consequences that speak almost as loudly. Persecution. Insults. And more persecution. But the story, as we know, does not end there.

The path Jesus invites us to follow is not an easy one. Especially not if you take it seriously. But what can we really do, we’re only human after all.

And yet, we hear these words not only in our Lectionary readings, but we seek them out again and again. We may be actively seeking out the comfort, but we cannot help but hear the challenge.

In the challenge, we hear promise and hope, just as clearly as it is written on this banner (by the side of the altar.) Jesus invites us to seek the love of God above all else. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

In the challenge, we are stretched to identify with people who have so much more to mourn that we do. With those who are victims of oppression and dire poverty in ways we can only imagine. With those whose life experiences make them truly meek and seekers of justice and makers of peace. In the challenge, we are called to journey with our brothers and sisters.

This journey may not be easy to embark upon day in and day out, but it is possible. All things are possible for God, even when the material God is working with is us silly human beings.

We gather together on All Saints Day. We remember real men and real women who were not only able to hear the challenge of Jesus. They were able to answer and live out his call, in their real human lives. That, in a way, is also a comfort. And a challenge.

A great multitude of men and women, from every nation, race, people, and tongue, were able not merely to survive times of great distress, but to live the good news. Not merely to survive, but to live the good news. If we look around the chapel here today, we will see may nations, races, peoples and tongues represented.

But again we might say, it’s all well and good for these HOLY men and women to live out the ideals of the Gospel. But we’re just ordinary people. What can we do?

I am reminded of what Dorothy Day once said to a reporter who remarked that he’d never interviewed a Saint before. She said, “Don't call me a saint -- I don't want to be dismissed that easily.”

We can dismiss ourselves too easily I think. We can dismiss our own abilities to live up to our God given potential.

It is true that we are only human. But so were the Saints. They started out on their journeys exactly as we have. The difference between them and the average Joe or Josephine is that they took the challenge of the Beatitudes very seriously. The beauty of it is, they are not only our role models, but journey with us and encourage us to live the good news with our lives.

Looking back, I think I selected the Beatitudes as the Gospel passage for my mother’s funeral not only to be comforted, but to be challenged. When a loved one dies, people often look back closely at their lives to see, what were the virtues they embodied? Is there something I could learn from their life?

This Feast of All Saints is an opportunity to ask ourselves, how serious are we about following their example and answering Jesus’ call?

Are we, as today’s Psalm says, the people who long to see God’s face? Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to see God’s face in each other, now, today. To be Christ to the stranger. To be Christ to our neighbor. To be saints in our every day lives.


Anonymous said...

Excellent homily, Sue! As you probably know, Margaret Anna was very inspired by the beatitudes and wrote a book of commentary on them "The Book of the Blessed Ones." I often thought we'd be a lot different if we had been taught to examine our consciences on the Beatitudes instead of on the commandments.


Anonymous said...

P.S. Sorry, I mean "Susan"!

Anonymous said...

One of my friends gave me sisterbloggers web addy. I am in discernment with the SSJs. And I wandered across your page. Thank you for sharing the reflection. Out of curiosity...could you post a bit of the history of your community. I haven't heard of them until now. I will be keeping you in my prayers!

Cathy said...

Beautiful--and challenging!

Thanks for sharing.

great sandwich! said...

That's really beautiful, Susan. I'm glad you decided to share it here.

I like Terry's comment about examining our consciences on the Beatitudes.