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.

God & Storms: Does God protect us?

This blog post was originally published in October 2014. It seemed appropriate to repost it in the midst of this historic hurricane season, as we continue to pray for all those facing storms.

How would you answer the question, "Does God protect us?"

* * * * *

Do you ever pray about the weather?  “Pray for good weather this Sunday for the church picnic.”  While there’s certainly nothing wrong with praying for this sort of thing, it may create legitimate questions in our minds:  If God would arrange good weather for our church picnic, why wouldn’t he arrange for hurricanes to avoid heavily populated areas, or for monsoons to stop before they become devastating floods, or for rain to fall on drought-stricken farms? Why not redirect a polar vortex or subdue a tsunami?

Can God control the weather?  Of course.  But does he?

In this way, earth’s storms are not unlike the storms of life.  We can and we should pray about the difficulties and devastations we face.  We must always communicate with, and lean on and believe in, our loving and powerful God.  But we are well aware that he does not always intervene when it comes to “bad weather.”  Could God control every aspect of our lives, create a wall around us, protecting us from every bad thing?  Perhaps.  But does he?  He most certainly does not.

Perhaps it comes down to a question of how God protects us.  There are times in life when we feel miraculously protected – walking away from a car accident, being thrown from a horse and standing up good as new.  But for the most part, we get tossed around by life with scars to show for it – there are injuries, illnesses, heartbreaks, sleeplessness, stress and death – for all of God’s children.  The rain falls on everyone, and some even seem to get more than their fair share.  God does not always shield us from these things.  And yet he remains our powerful protector.  He protects not with a power that interferes with each event, but a power that gathers us in, and pulls us near, and makes and keeps promises about being with us.  It is a power that may strike us as a bit too subtle at times, and yet as time passes, we recognize how awesome, and how essential, and how real it actually is.

As a parent, I do not want my children to suffer, and I am naturally tempted to smooth their paths in whatever way I can.  But even more than I may want an easy life for them, I want a great life for them.  I want them to be great.  And the fact is that great people have suffered. They have experienced the storms of life without always bailing out into the nearest shelter. They have learned the most important things by being brought down low.  Storms transformed them and made them strong, wise, clearheaded and serene.  Wounded?  Yes, that too.  But we can be wounded and still be great.  It is much harder to be utterly unscathed and be anything more than mediocre.

God allows bad weather – really bad weather – and he allows life’s storms.  Sometimes the storms are so bad that our wounds don’t heal.  For those times we may simply have to surrender:  “Lord, I know you may not change this storm, but you are always willing to change me.  So if you must, make me great!”

Hurricane Harvey makes destructive landfall on the coast of Texas on Aug. 25, 2017. Image credit NOAA/RAMMB.

Hurricane Harvey makes destructive landfall on the coast of Texas on Aug. 25, 2017. Image credit NOAA/RAMMB.

I Cannot Be Destroyed

“Daddy, what is your worst-est fear?”

Just a bit of background: both of my sons are very interested in ninjas, and ninjas ask these kinds of things. And because ninjas never give up, Eli waited patiently as my husband considered whether or not to reveal his deepest fear to a five-year-old. The young ninja finally offered a helpful suggestion:

“Is it being destroyed?”

I heard about this completely one-sided conversation when I arrived home. My husband never answered Eli’s question – but I suppose there’s no reason to when your five-year-old has already successfully identified every human being’s greatest fear.

Fear of being destroyed.

I’ve been told that when you’re dying, you don’t want things sugar-coated. You don’t want surface-level nonsense that sounds good but gets you nowhere. You want to talk about death. You want to talk about being destroyed. You want to know what it’s really about – what’s going to happen, how it’s going to be, how you’ll accept it. In the Church we talk about the “last things” – death, judgment, heaven, hell. You want to know what those things mean.

One of the great personal creeds of Scripture is that stubborn declaration of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” It’s worth noting that Job says this almost immediately after declaring that God “breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree” (Job 19:10, 25).

People of faith – we believe that we cannot be destroyed. To destroy is to cause something to come to an end, to cease to exist. God may break us down. We may feel lost or gone. Our hope will come and go. But we cannot be destroyed (cf. 2 Cor. 4:9; 5:1). As Job declares, I will see God: I will see for myself, my own eyes, not another’s, will see him (Job 19:26-27).

 I can’t think of anything harder than being a human being. Destruction hangs around us in so many ways, so many areas of our lives. We are strong, but we are so fragile. It isn’t just physical destruction we fear but mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, relational, national, natural and even ecclesial. We won’t escape destructive experiences. We know that, we who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

But I hope you will say it with me, Job’s creed: I cannot be destroyed. Because my redeemer lives. I will see for myself, my own eyes will see him. My inmost being is consumed with longing (Job 19:25-27).

The little ninja.

The little ninja.

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).

He Also Bled Here

Christ comes to dwell among us.
This earth has borne His imprint and we walk on it.
Each step of ours an adventure in faith, love, hope.
How can we not love this earth upon which He walked?
How can we not get from it the strength that the imprints of His feet left there?
Because, you know, His footsteps are still in its dust,
and His blood is still mixed with it.
— Servant of God Catherine Doherty

This quote was shared with me by Scott Eagan of Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario.