The Silent Creed

What a comfort it is to know that our faith exists within a community! According to Scripture, God does not only save individuals—God saves his people. The great covenants of the Bible—the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant in Christ—are not made with individuals but with the Israelite people and then with the entire world. Although it is true that God is eternally and devotedly focused on each one of us—to the point of counting every hair on our heads!—it is also true that God creates and loves each of us as members of communities: our families, our Church, our world.

A friend of mine once told me a powerful story about a difficult time in her life. She had just given birth to a baby girl, and the little girl was struggling to survive. Devastated, distraught, exhausted, and totally stressed, my friend went to Mass. When it came time for the Creed, she couldn’t speak. She was empty. She wasn’t sure what or if she believed.

What happened next both surprised and sustained her. As the voices around her professed the Creed, my friend felt lifted up. Their unwavering, believing voices were like strong arms lifting up her heart, her mind, her body to God. Was she struggling to profess, to believe? No matter. The community believed on her behalf, and she let them.

I tried this myself on Sunday. I was silent during the Creed; I listened. All around me voices rose up. I had never thought of my parish as particularly robust, but they were loud and strong! I looked around at all of the faces and bodies. I knew how different we all are, how even when we say “I believe,” we are thinking, meaning, believing slight variations on the themes of our faith. But these were my people, speaking “I believe.” These were God’s people, the ones of the covenant.

This weekend when you go to Mass, I encourage you to stay silent during the Creed, just this once. Listen, be lifted. Be reminded how strong is the faith of our Church. Be reminded that your brothers and sisters believe for you when you feel empty or you cannot speak. They are loud enough. They are strong enough. Let their voices lift you like arms. These are your people.

We are as interconnected as these water droplets on a spider web. Photo by Mary Weems. Used with permission.

We are as interconnected as these water droplets on a spider web. Photo by Mary Weems. Used with permission.

I Can't. You Must.

One of my students, Sister Jerilyn, shared this prayer with our class last night. The prayer is attributed to Oscar Romero. 

I looked this prayer up online, and one commentator astutely noted that this prayer was Romero's personal way of praying Jesus' prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane:  "Not what I want but what you want" (Mt. 26:39). 

I looked this prayer up online, and one commentator astutely noted that this prayer was Romero's personal way of praying Jesus' prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not what I want but what you want" (Mt. 26:39). 

Your Paper-Thin Wings

At Saturday’s retreat on prayer, my retreatants and I reflected on how we are made for prayer. We are human; we are free; we are made for relationships. Prayer is our relationship with God. God is not “up there” while we are “down here.” Rather, God is with us, and he desires intimacy with us. Although prayer is indisputably challenging, we were made for it. It was meant to be.

To illustrate this point, I shared something I recently heard on a Radiolab podcast (with four kids in four schools this year, I do a lot of driving and a lot of podcasting!). Radiolab was investigating how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Do you know how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly?

A caterpillar does not simply grow wings inside its chrysalis. No, first the caterpillar dissolves into a goop. That’s right, goop. If you cut open a chrysalis during this stage, goop spills out! Somehow that goop becomes a butterfly.

But where do the wings come from?

As it turns out, the wings are already formed inside the caterpillar. Careful dissection of a prepupal caterpillar reveals paper-thin, transparent wings, tiny antennae and even legs! The structures of “butterfly-ness” exist just below the caterpillar's outer skin, waiting for transformation.

We were made for prayer, friends. The wings are already there, paper-thin, transparent, and a bit pent up. With God’s help, we can stretch out and fly.

I hope you will enjoy this Radiolab broadcast:  “Goo and You.”

"Life history of the silk moth (Bombyx mori). A, caterpillar; B, pupa; C, imago; the cocoon is cut open to show the pupa lying within."   Source: J. Arthur Thomson, M.A., LL.D. Outlines of Zoology (New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company, 1916).

"Life history of the silk moth (Bombyx mori). A, caterpillar; B, pupa; C, imago; the cocoon is cut open to show the pupa lying within." Source: J. Arthur Thomson, M.A., LL.D. Outlines of Zoology (New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company, 1916).

Homily Gem #2

I heard this on Sunday and thought it was a beautiful idea:

When praying for someone who is sick, you can use the words of Lazarus’ sisters, who said to Jesus: ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’
— Fr. Declan Creighton

Fr. Declan was referring to the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). 

How did Jesus respond to Mary and Martha, when they sent word that their brother was ill?  He said, “This illness is not to end in death.”  Of course, several verses later, we find out that Lazarus has indeed died.  And yet with Mary and Martha, we believe the words of Jesus, “Your brother will rise.”

Do you have a loved one or a friend who is facing a serious illness?  This story from John’s Gospel is fertile ground for prayer and reflection:  the delay of Jesus in coming to Lazarus’ side, the faith of the sisters, the tears of Jesus, the power of his voice that raised Lazarus from the tomb, the unbinding of death’s trappings, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and triumph.

Lord, the one you love is ill.  I trust you.  You know what is best.  In your time, raise him, untie him and let him go free.

"This is not to end in death."  The death and raising of Lazarus foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Botticelli,  Pieta  (detail).

"This is not to end in death."  The death and raising of Lazarus foreshadows the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Botticelli, Pieta (detail).

The Sacred Dynamic of Frank Conversation

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was the familiar story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  As the reading began, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything new.  I know this one; I know the words of Jesus; I know the lesson.

But I was blessed to be surprised.  I was surprised by the words of Martha.  Not because she sounded distressed, or frustrated, or annoyed with her sister.  I wasn’t surprised by her resentment or even her logic. 

I was surprised by how bold she was with Jesus, how frank, how confident.

Thinking back over the Gospels, there were many people who were quite deferential toward Jesus.  They spoke and acted with fitting respect for the masterful teacher and wonder-worker he was.  But there were others who were surprisingly informal with Jesus.  Perfect strangers approached him – they asked him for things, they touched him, they laid their heaviest burdens on him.  Indeed, many who approached Jesus did not just ask; they commanded!  Remember Jairus:  “My daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her” (Mk. 5:23) or Bartimaeus of Jericho:  “Let me see again” (Mk. 10:51).

Martha’s command was just as direct:  “Tell her to help me.”

Certainly the presence of Jesus made people take notice.  There was charisma, authority, even power over the natural world.  But apparently he was not intimidating.  There was something about his presence that drew people close, unmasking them and inviting frank conversation and bold requests.

Now of course, when we are frank and bold with Jesus, he may be frank and bold with us.   Martha may not have liked Jesus’ gentle rebuke.  But John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus loved her (Jn. 11:5), and she certainly knew that.   There was no need for Martha to hide her heart from Jesus.  The honesty, the unmasking, is what allowed Jesus to penetrate that heart, to love it and transform it.  This is the power of honest prayer, the sacred dynamic of frank conversation.