We are all on a journey called life. We come from God, and we are journeying home to God.
As much as we might want it to be, the road home is filled with bumps. Many are small and are easily dealt with; some are bigger and require major adjustments on our part to remain on the road and some are catastrophic and require much prayer and sacrifice to remain true to our journey. God is with us on this journey, especially as we navigate the bumps in the road. The bumps are not bad. In fact, they are needed. The bumps challenge us and help us to grow in virtue, especially in patience and trust.
I have reflected often on the bumps in my life these past several months. July 9th, in spite of the fact that I had gotten vaccinated, I came down with a rather bad case of shingles. Everything I ever read or heard about shingles is true. I can attest to it. July and August were trying bumps. The after effects are still with me. October 17th saw another bump. I had just started what was to be five days of relaxation and vacation. I found myself unable to urinate and ended up in the emergency room of a New Jersey hospital. For the past ten days, I have been wearing a catheter – not a pleasant experience. Today, I see the urologist. On October 24th, I had minor surgery on my tongue to remove a growth. Minor but an irritant bump.
Bumps on the road. I am accustomed to much business travel and long days of work. Slowing down is not in my vocabulary. And yet, that is precisely what I have had to do. As I’ve been encountering these bumps in the road, my prayer has been for patience and for greater trust in God’s Will for me. Not what I want but what God wants. My prayer is not only to accept the bumps but to see them as gifts!
In today’s first reading, Ephesians 4:32-5:8, St. Paul reminds us,
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of Light!“
You and I are called to be our best selves, the people that God knows that we can be, children of Light. St. Paul tells us some of the traits of being children of Light:
- be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ;
- live in love, as Christ loved us;
- immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you … no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk which is out of place (obviously, we have to weed these out of our lives!);
- instead, thanksgiving.
While acknowledging and condemning the negative, the stress is on the positive. We are challenged to tap our potential and be our best selves.
Today’s Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.”
The man above, a Pharisee, is one of two characters in the parable that Jesus offers us today. Both are in the temple praying. The Pharisee follows all the precepts of the Law. He is fundamentally a good man but also proud, arrogant and judgmental. Note that he is dismissive towards the tax collector, …”even like this tax collector.” He is self-righteous.
The other man in the parable, the tax collector, knows himself and his failings and stands at a respectful distance, “…and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’.” He throws himself completely on the mercy of God.
Who do you identify with today? I find something of myself in both of these men.
Today’s Gospel. Luke 13:1-9, is about challenge and patience: God’s challenge to each of us and God’s merciful patience with each of us.
In the first section of the Gospel, Jesus challenges His hearers, “…if you do not repent, you will perish…” and in the second half, He tells us a parable (parables are teaching stories). He tells about a person who plants a fig tree and finds himself disappointed year after year as he searches for fruit on it but finds none. He decides that he will have it cut down. The gardener talks him out of it asking the owner to let him work with the tree: “…leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future…”
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are in need of repentance. To be human is to be flawed. We are a mix of good and bad. God is forever challenging us to become our best selves, to become the persons that God knows that we can be. Genuine repentance for our faults and failings is one of the surest ways of taping our potential. And the good news is that God is amazingly patient with us. He works with us and within us and never gives up on us. Our challenge is to cooperate with Him. That’s what conversion is all about.
We approach God as Creator with awe, reverence and respect. We approach God as Savior with love and gratitude. We approach God as Companion with trust, confidence and honesty – which sometimes can result in humorous stories when they are retold.
Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of one of its great saints, Teresa of Avila, a Sixteen Century Spanish cloistered nun, reformer, writer and mystic. There are many stories about her. This morning, the priest at Mass shared one of them – one of my favorites.
Teresa was riding a donkey on a long journey from one monastery to another. She was wearing the long robes of her community. It started to rain and it got worse. She was drenched. The donkey got stubborn as donkeys often do and refused to move. She gave it a jab to get it moving and it bolted throwing her to the ground. As she struggled to get to her feet, soaking wet and now covered with mud, she looked up to the heavens and said to God: “No wonder You have so few friends if this is how You treat them!”
Have a good day! And cultivate a sense of humor! God is present in all!