Sunday, November 13, 2011

Faithful Servants

Well done my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.

Usually when people hear these readings they think the priest or deacon is going to ask for money. Well, I am not going to do that. But, just so you know if you feel the spirit move you to generosity, I will be standing in that door in the back as you make your way out of the church. A joke, of course. But what does it mean to be a faithful servant today?

Bob and Jan just had their first baby girl: Anna. Walking into their hospital room I saw Jan holding Anna in her arms. She was clearly exhausted, but she had that heavenly look of a new mother. Bob held his wife’s hand with a look of accomplishment in his eyes. And then there was Anna. She was so precious, so innocent, and yet so vulnerable. She had to rely on her parents for everything: her very life, her food, her care—everything. All that she had was given to her from her two loving parents.

In many ways, we are like Anna in the arms of a loving God. God has given us all that we have. From our very lives, to the air we breathe, to the food we eat, to the minds and talents that we have. Sure, we do work hard for what we have. Yet in the end, all we have accomplished has its source in God.

The first step of being a faithful servant is recognizing that all we have been given is a gift from God.

Recognizing that all is a gift from God, the faithful servant is moved to properly worship the God who has given us everything.

Two weekends ago I attended the Ohio State Buckeye football game in Columbus with my father. It was a lot of fun. But it was interesting, however being around a crowd like that for the weekend. People start thinking about the game weeks in advance. They read the paper, study the stats, watch the pre-game programs, and oftentimes go way out of their way to attend the game. They spend outrageous sums of money for tickets and for those hotdogs that I am not sure are even made out of meat. Then there is the hype, the cheerleaders, and the massive crowds. People cheer to the point of losing their voice. The outcome of the game determines how people function for the next week or even month. In many ways, football is the most highly and successfully attended worship service in America.

But what if that same effort was put forth into worshipping God? Mass oftentimes becomes for us one thing on the weekend that we basically get out of the way. We even—I even—get antsy if the Mass goes too far over an hour. Sometimes we even rush out the doors before we are finished. Yet imagine if we changed our mindset and Mass, worshipping God, became the very center of our lives. We read and prayed over the readings days in advance. We discussed them with our friends and family before and after Mass. We sang with all the effort we can. We wanted it to go longer so we could spend more time praying. And we had a hunger inside of us that could only be satisfied through the Eucharist. Our lives would change. The world would change. Those things that trouble us and don’t make sense would take on a new meaning. The faithful servant is the one who properly worships the God who has given us everything.

Through our worship, the faithful servant awaits the master’s return.

Later in Mass will we pray Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. We recognize that Christ will come again, and that when he does we will have to give an account of our actions. Now this can certainly make us nervous or anxious. But I think it can be motivation for us to make the changes we need to make today to be better stewards of all we have been given. Ultimately, though, we are all going to fall short in being the faithful steward that God is calling us to be. It will be Jesus, the greatest gift we have been given, and his love for us, that will allow the Father to say:

Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

One of Those Days in Formation

Have you ever had one of those days in formation where the seminary felt like the last place you should be? I’m sure we all have, but let me elaborate…

You wake up late after hitting the snooze for way, way too long. You’re tired. The night before you couldn’t sleep, because your neighbors snoring sounded like a mariachi band was playing in his room. So you don’t have time to shave—even though you know it’s the right thing to do—and you forget mouthwash. But hey, at least you put on deodorant, that’s a start.

Rushing to prayer you round the corner of Benet only to hear “One Bread One Body” being sung. You check your cell phone: Wednesday. So you quietly slip away to your room and write your dean yet another email indicating that you missed mass. Could things get any worse…?

Then it’s back down to Newman to catch breakfast. You’ve waited just long enough so that everyone has started eating, and no one will suspect that you weren’t at mass. But because of this the eggs are gone, the peanut butter and jelly bowls are emptied and the oatmeal has solidified. So you settle on cereal only to find somebody has stolen your lucky charms.

So on an empty stomach you shuffle off to Colloquy. The topic is human formation: of course you’re sitting there with your shirt half tucked in, an afternoon shadow on your face (even though it’s 8:30 am), and you’re still breathing out garlic from Los Bravos the night before. But hey, perhaps the rector won’t notice.

The colloquy continues and is inviting you to become a bridge for the people of God to meet Christ. You know this is a beautiful image. But unfortunately right about now you are feeling a little more like the Sherman Minton in Louisville than the Brooklyn in New York.

You take a deep breath: Inside your heart you ask God to give you just a little more faith to get through this tough day of formation.

In today’s gospel perhaps the disciples are questioning whether they are really cut out to follow Christ. They had just heard the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Now this message was tough to hear. What’s worse is that just a few days earlier they failed to put forth hardly any effort to feed the group of 5 thousand who were without food or shelter. Now today Jesus is telling them if they should cause anyone to stumble in their faith, it would be better if they were drowned in the sea by a millstone. If that wasn’t severe enough, Jesus is asking them to fraternally correct their brothers, and offer forgiveness even to the guy who is sinning against them, not once, but seven times a day.

And so they do what most of us would probably do: on the verge of panic, they ask Jesus to increase their faith.
But it is almost as if Jesus responds with what seems to be a lack of empathy. He says: all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed. That’s it. Perhaps the disciples felt at least a little short changed with his response.

But the reality is that Jesus was spot on in his remark. Whether it is the disciples who are asked to rise to the level of being leaders in the early Church, or it is us as we struggle to continue on their tradition, we are reminded of a truth that we must never forget. In the end holiness of life is not about us—it’s about God and our faith in what he is doing in us! If we want to be that bridge for others it is our faith that will repair and support our broken structures. If we want to thrive in this mulberry tree of formation, we must always remember that it will only be done through him, with him, and in him.