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Reflections on Faith - Views and Prayer Experiences of the People of God - June 2007

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June 25, 2007

I would like to say some words today about being a member of God's people – his chosen people… and about not judging. The history of the Old Testament is filled with stories and examples of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. In a way – it might make you wonder whether there are other faiths that have 3, 4 or 5,000-year history that speaks of their own relationship with the One True God. Setting that aside, in today’s reading for Masses, the Lord said to Abram to go forth to a land and place that he, God would show Abram. In trust – that is what we are called to do… to follow God’s will for us. We could certainly spend a week just exploring how to move in the direction of doing God’s will… but as I said, we are into different pastures today.

So let me tell you a story to set the scene for today. My father-in-law – a wonderful man died in June a year ago. He is buried on a pastoral piece of land beside the Methodist Church that the family attended for a generation or more. There are maple trees and a stream nearby – and I’ll bet that in some sense – Dad Morrison can still hear the singing of hymns during Sunday worship…

Now when we visit Pennsylvania, my wife & I always go to the gravesite to pray for – to greet and remember her dad, Mike. Dee's sister told me that she didn't feel the need to go there because she doesn't believe that that's where her dad is. In other words – a waste of time to go to a place where decaying flesh is...

I had a slightly similar reaction from my mother-in-law when we went to the gravesite and I suggested prayer. It seemed as if her view was – her husband is in heaven – no need to pray. So here we have two generations of Christians who don’t see any reason to go to a cemetery… no reason to pray in that setting for the deceased. Is there a clearer example of differences between our faiths? We Catholics are called to visit cemeteries and to pray for the deceased – it’s a part of the Corporal Works of Mercy. We honor the deceased… we invoke God’s mercy for them… and we really call upon them to reach out as Lazarus was called to in that parable story about the rich man who died after not feeding Lazarus when he was living on earth.

Well certainly, there are hundreds of examples of differences in our Christian faith beliefs … I mean what we believe about the Eucharist – some, like Methodists may have a Communion Service once a month or some such. But it doesn’t have any similar meaning to our Holy Communion … and we have the Mass – and there is little semblance of liturgy in what they practice… for them, it’s about Scripture and preaching and sometimes older, established hymns... They don’t honor saints… they don’t venerate Mary… In discussing this with my wife – I pondered how are we ever going to help our faiths find union? How to become one faith again? I guess it will rely completely on the Good God. And that dear hearts, leads me to the thoughts on not judging. Many of us are terrible about judging.

Although in the name of feel-good-ism, many want to preach a commonality that means all beliefs are equal and all are acceptable. That is, of course erroneous – it is the flawed thinking of relativism of these days. But, somehow in the certain knowledge of what we believe in… AND the WHY of what we believe, we need to not judge the hearts of others. We must recognize that in some other Christian faiths – there may be five hundred years – perhaps a hundred generations of believers in their faith walks that have led to the people we come in contact with from other Christian faiths. We can’t judge them. We cannot look down on them. We cannot pray ‘Lord, I am so glad you didn’t make me like them…” We need to be like the tax collector who says, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

And then, I believe it is right to ask – “Lord – in your holy will, if there is anything …. anything you would have me do to share my faith with others – please guide me. Help me. Send your most Holy Spirit.” This is the humble prayer of unity… of not judging… of not being superior to others. And for those of other faiths who preach or teach against Catholics, those who taunt our brokenness and our sometimes flawed leadership… remember what we heard in today’s reading, “I will bless those who bless you… and curse those who curse you.” Blessed be the people God has chosen… even those who may be on a different path to the Promised Land.

And may God have mercy on the soul of my father-in-law Mike Morrison – and upon all the souls of the faithful departed. Amen.

June 4, 2007

Good morning to those present here for our Monday morning Communion Service. I am slowly, very slowly reading Scripture – currently the Old Testament. I heard someplace that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be a growing love of the Word of God… And this has certainly been true for me. However – in honesty, I want to say that I haven’t been reading a lot – nor has every page and every paragraph been easy to understand or fully meaningful to me… So you might allow yourself to have that same reaction or expectation….

I’d like to share a little bit this morning about the first reading from Tobit… perhaps my brief comments in this reflection will help us to view yet another way that God has given us His inspired gift of Scripture. The book of Tobit – named after its principal hero is written primarily as a story – a sort of a religious novel. While there is a historical nucleus used in the Book of Tobit, it is a work of fiction with wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian circles. If you’ve ever read John Grisham mysteries, he uses a core of historical events and geography to support his novels.

Tobit combines Jewish piety and morality with some borrowed oriental folklore… it has prayers, psalms and words of wisdom along with valuable insights into the religious faith and practices of the period of time of the author. The character, Tobit is seen as a devout Israelite living among captives. And doesn’t it seem like the Jews were always captive in one way or another?

Tobit had many misfortunes and severe reverses – but he remains a man of good heart – charitable and caring. Thus the construct supports for example, Tobit giving bread to the hungry, clothes to those without – and especially his courage in burying the dead. Faithful Jews believed in honorable burial for the dead – burial quickly and reverently done – whereas the captors of the Israelites would simply throw the bodies outside of the walls of Nineveh…

In the reading from this morning – Tobit came home to a wonderful meal prepared by his wife… It was on the Jewish feast of Pentecost – not our Solemnity as we know it in the Catholic faith. At any rate, Tobit reclines and is ready to eat; then remembers that in the love of others, he should invite someone less fortunate to come and partake of this wonderful meal. So he sends his son out to find a poorer person to join them. The son comes home with news of a Jewish person who has been murdered and left outside. This is the lead-in to the story we heard about Tobit leaving his dinner untouched and going out to retrieve the body. He brings the body home – but he didn’t immediately bury it. Do you know why? It was a Jewish feast day – and you would dishonor the Sabbath feast by doing the work of burial of a body. So he waits till after sunset. After the burial, we read that Tobit came back and washed himself. Why would he wash himself? Because of the ritual defilement that comes from touching a corpse. You can bet they had stringent washing and rinsing steps they had to go through to become clean again.

People mocked Tobit in this story. You know – just like people who sort of mock or raise their eyebrows about those who are very strong in their faith and beliefs… For example, there are Christians who go to abortion clinics and pray and silently protest the loss of life that happens there – and some in our society will just sit in their homes cluck-clucking about ‘so and so’ who goes off and gets involved in that kind of stuff… They hide behind self-preserving statements: “That’s all politics – why are ‘they’ getting involved in something that the government has decided is legal?” So too it was in the setting of the story of Tobit. And we who read novels like stories of the journey and experience of others… coupled with a happy ending. Tobit Scripture tells us that Tobit suffered many ordeals… even to the point of praying for God to grant him death… his wife Sarah gets involved in gossip and false accusations… she seems to fall into a depression and she too prays for death… There is much of real life in this story – marriage and illness and demons and loss of sight – perhaps blindness meant as a metaphor? Finally – there is a joyful prayer called Tobit’s Song of Praise – and a good and holy death at the end…. At our Masses for this week, we will be reading more from Tobit; I wanted you to hear some of the scope of this book from the Bible so you would be able to enjoy a different form of gift from God – a different form of writing within Scripture – a novel that teaches us how we are to live – how we are to love and serve our God and His people… and how we should strive to prepare for the end of our lives.

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