Monday, July 31, 2006

Dirty Underwear?

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, priest

Readings for Monday
Biographical Information about Saint Ignatius of Loyola


My first thought as I read the first reading from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah was, “If I had used that analogy in a homily, I would have gotten in trouble.” Jeremiah speaks of being ordered to procure a loincloth (underpants) to wear them and not to wash them. Later he is ordered to bury them and then later come back and dig them up. Not surprisingly, the dirty underpants he had buried had rotted.

I must admit, while the analogy was crude (in a topical sense), I did get my attention. What Jeremiah was saying was that the Father had offered to keep the people of Israel close to him (as close as undergarments, a very familiar or intimate image). But because they had rejected Him by not following his decrees and precepts, they had rejected Him (not he them) and as a result, that intimate relationship was now as useful as rotting underpants. His call, through this rather disgusting image, was to return to God, to come back to his grace.

In the Gospel, Jesus is talking about that same faith through parables, short ones. His parables, the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast, were more savory than the one used by Jeremiah. They say something even more profound. They tell us that our faith, as we live it, will grow and become strong if we wish. It will bear fruit beyond all proportion to its initial size, like yeast in bread; a small amount raises the whole dough.

So where do we go today with these stories? What do we take into the world of work, school, or social interaction? We take the lesion that first says follow God in all we do (or we could become as useful as rotted underpants) and if we do that well, the little we do can have tremendous impact on those around us. We can, quite literally, transform the world.

Our prayer for today is that we, through our actions and words, can be the catalyst in the lives of others. That through us, others might see the face of God and have hope. We can do no better that the person whose feast day we celebrate, St. Ignatius of Loyola. With just a few friends, he started the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, whose numbers now are in the hundreds of thousands and whose works have spread the word of God over much of the non-Christian world.

Let us pray also today that the work of the modern order he founded will continue to bear fruit and that its servants remain faithful to the example he set.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Search for Passion

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Once upon a time a young boy went to a city with his father on a business trip. They arrived a day early and checked into a hotel which was way cool for the boy because, in all his nine years, he had never stayed in a hotel before.

His father told him he had to go to a meeting that evening with some business associates but that the wife of one of these men was going to a concert in the opera house and had an extra ticket. When his father asked if he would like to go or would he rather stay in the hotel room, the boy decided that he would very much like to hear an opera. He had heard about the great tenors and sopranos

He got cleaned up (again, although he did not see why he had to, he had just ridden in a car for a few hours and he had washed his face just that morning AND combed his hair.). At 7:00 the lady and her husband came by their room. The boy’s dad and the other man waked off down the hall and the lady smiled at the boy and asked if he was ready.

The opera house was not too far away so they walked. The night air was cool and a little damp and the noise of the city was everywhere. They reached to opera house (the boy had seen the marquis for about two blocks) and joined a line to get in. Once seated, the lady leaned over and told the boy that he must be very quiet once the music began. She also asked him if he needed to got to the bathroom which he thought was insulting. What did she think he was, a little kid? Besides, his dad had told him to go before they left the hotel room.

The lights in the hall dimmed and the orchestra began to play. They were very good. The boy had heard bands in his town play and was taking piano lesions from Mrs. Richenbach back home and he could tell the Orchestra was really good. He vowed then and there to work harder at practicing piano.

After a while, the big velvet curtain parted and rose and on stage there was the scenery of some remote European town. The boy looked at the program the lady had handed him but the name on the front was long and foreign. Then men and women came on stage, all dressed up like they belonged in that strange village, and they began to sing. They sang like the boy had never heard before in a language he did not understand. But the music itself touched a chord in him and he was immediately drawn in.

The boy tried to follow the story the music was telling and, to some degree he succeeded, he knew that a lady had died when a tenor walked out on stage all by himself and began to sign. Again the words made no sense, the boy did not speak the language, but the clarity of that voice, the melody was so sweet and pure it gripped his heart. Before he knew it, tears were running down his face, not because he was sad (although it was a sad song), but because he had never heard anything so beautiful.

Not to long after the tenor’s solo the opera ended. It ended joyfully with throngs of signers filling the hall with sound. But the boy was still hearing the sweet melody of the tenor. That song filled him up and he could not, did not want to, let it go. If only he could sing like that.

The next day was rather uneventful. His father had meetings all day and the boy was instructed not to leave the hotel. So, he went down to the lobby and hung around the gift shop which did not make the clerk there any too happy. But the boy did not notice. He was still in something of a rapture of music, the music that tenor had sung the night before. He had tried to explain it to his dad (who by the way was tone deaf – The boy did not like to sit next to him a church because when he sang, people around them tended to stare.) but his father just smiled and said something about the first time he had ridden on a ferry boat he wanted to be a sea captain.

This was more than just a simple trip to the opera for the boy though. It turned into a life altering experience. When he returned to his home he single-mindedly looked for a way to train his voice and to learn the music he had heard. At first his parents thought, oh, this is nice, he likes to sing. But after a couple months when his zeal did not abate his mother began to take him seriously. She enrolled him with the choirmaster at the church, then with a boy’s choir in a city near-by.

They boy’s voice was a nice voice, a pleasant voice. But as hard as he worked, it would never be a great voice. Still he yearned to make that glorious sound that made his soul weep in the opera house. He completed his schooling; his passion for music won him a scholarship at a university known for its music. He knew by this time that he would never be a great tenor so he did what he thought was the next best thing, he began teaching others, always looking for that one voice that could take him back to the opera house on that business trip so many years before.

His search trained many great voices and he was, at the end of his career, hailed as one of the greatest voice coaches the opera had ever known. He never did find that sound again. Perhaps it was that tenor’s only great performance. Perhaps it was some combination of acoustics or the moment, but it was never to be repeated in his hearing. Of course, the point of his life was the search, not the finding.

I tell this story today as I reflect upon the Lord repeating the miracle of Elisha the prophet (I have to tell you, I don’t remember ever having heard that Elisha story before. I must have but I don’t remember it.) Something extraordinary happened that day on the hillside. Something that demonstrated the identity of the person called Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. People there must surely have known what took place, yet, like me forgetting about Elisha feeding a hundred people, almost all of those he fed must have forgotten about it or not realized what had happened. We know this because, when the Lord went before Pilot, many of these same people must have been standing in the crowd that yelled “Crucify him!”

Is not this story compelling enough to make us want to tell every one we meet? Perhaps it’s because it happened so long ago and we were not there; but what about today? Today we participate in another miracle, the one He gave us, the one prefigured by the feeding of the five thousand. If we truly believe that Jesus gave us the Eucharist, His own body and blood, that is brought to the alter as simple bread and wine and there transubstantiated, is that not enough to pursue and talk about for the rest of our lives?

Ultimately, it is our passions that define who we are. It is that which we hold close to our hearts that motivates us. It is the search that people see. It is how they know us. If money, success, and power are our admissions, what do people see? If our great passion is the Lord, be sure, they will see that too.

I gave you a story about one person’s passion today, it defined his life. How will we define ours?


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Martha, Martha

Memorial of Saint Martha
Readings for Saturday
Biographical Information about Saint Martha


Some days it’s good to be able to look at multiple passages from the Gospel on the same topic. Today we are given a choice of encounters with St. Martha. The first option is to look at her example of faith as she encounters the Lord after the death of her brother, Lazarus. In this meeting we see a Martha’s deep and abiding faith as she says: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

This statement is quite remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, if we look a little way back in this same story from the Gospel of St. John, we see that Jesus could have come sooner. He could very possibly have arrived in time to heal Lazarus instead of putting the dead man’s sisters and friends through the emotional ordeal of having to deal with his loss. Martha knew this. As we see from other references to Martha (such as the reading we have from Luke), Martha was rather outspoken with Jesus. Based upon that understanding of Martha we find it remarkable that she was composed in her faith to make not only this first profession, but to go much further and say; “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world”

I will say we can reconcile her character with the Luke Gospel as we see her going out to meet Jesus at the beginning of the reading. Since in Luke she was not afraid to push Jesus (“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”) We can easily picture her state of mind and demeanor when she greets the Lord with; “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We can almost picture her, standing in the middle of the road, hands on hips, a look of grief mixed with anger, almost defying the Lord to walk around her. It must have struck the Lord, at that moment, how much the impending necessity of the sign of faith her brother was to become was costing her.

It was not her feisty attitude with Jesus or her take charge character that provides us the saintly example we see in her. It was her absolute faith in the Lord as Messiah and Savior that we see. In the Lazarus story we see it clearly set against the backdrop of personal tragedy, making it much more important. Remember, Martha uttered those words before Jesus raised her brother back to life.

Her example of faith and service is one we, as modern day disciples of Jesus, need to copy to the best of our ability. Martha served the Lord. Yes, she complained that her sister Mary was not helping. But that only exemplifies the fact that each of us has gifts and those gifts, while different, each have a place in God’s Kingdom. Let us pray today that we can serve the Lord using our own gifts as well as St. Martha did and earn for ourselves the same reward of eternal life in Christ.


The Move and Disclaimer

The Move and Disclaimer:

As of today, Saturday, July 29, 2006, the Deacon – Sailor blog is being moved to this location. Daily Scripture reflections from January 31, 2006 to July 28, 2006 may be reviewed at As time and resources permit, these archives will be moved to a more accessible location in the public domain.

For new readers of this web log, it is my personal reflections on the daily scripture readings found in the Lectionary for Mass as published under the authority of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I am a Permanent Deacon of the Roman Catholic Church, Ordained in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan in 1984 for the service of that particular church in the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While my faculties include preaching, and I will attempt at all times to reflect the mainstream teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the opinions and views expressed here are my own and should not be considered as the official view of the Church. When teaching references are used they will be either footnoted or hyperlinked within the text.

Comments are welcome; however, I may not have the time to engage in deep debate since I do have a “day job”.