Sunday, January 27, 2019

Things Aren’t Always How They Appear

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Things aren’t always  how they appear. Have  you noticed this to be true in your own life? I certainly have. My Dad would remind us seven children to speak softly and not be so quick to pass judgment because we don’t know the whole story. My Dad is a smart guy. 
Dad’s instruction is not easy to follow. It doesn’t come naturally but must be learned. When we hear some unexpected news, or encounter a difficult situation our minds automatically want to divide, subdivide, take sides and make a judgment call. But how many times have we continued the walk only to find out that we really didn’t have all the facts and indeed misjudged a person or situation. Quite humbling for sure.
Today’s Gospel reveals to us some important lessons. The Wedding Feast at Cana begins Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus was 30 years old. Although he is God, it took Mary that long to prepare Him for His mission. He too it seems had to learn to see with His heart. When he was ready, she told Him it was time. At first, He didn’t seem to get it. But then He moved. 
How embarrassing for the host family. Running out of wine? Unheard of and a disgrace. But things aren’t always as they appear when Jesus is around. He transformed this tragic situation into one of joy. Not only were those jars now filled with wine, they were filled with the best wine. Unheard of that the best would be saved for last! For the next three years, He would continue this revolution.
Mary is our universal Mother who teaches us to see with our hearts. Jesus continues to flip things around all the time. He makes what seems to be the worst into the best. Thank you, Mary and Jesus. You are invited to all our parties!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fuller Brush Man and the Lenten Journey

When I was young the summers seemed longer and we spent most of our time outside visiting with the neighbors and doing a whole lot of nothing. Occasionally something really exciting would happen; the Fuller Brush man would come. His visits were not scheduled but nobody seemed to mind. My mother was the most friendly and generous person.  She and I (and my siblings and neighbors) would sit down and enthusiastically look at all the cool gadgets and gizmos he had in his attaché case. I particularly liked the hairbrushes. He was a masterful salesperson displaying the items with pride and explaining how they would make our lives better. My mother would occasionally make a purchase but not always. Regardless, neither party considered the visit a waste of time. It was always mutually enjoyable and we’d look forward to the next.

My mother’s openness to others influenced me greatly. In reflecting, I see now that she was the living example of the scripture passage from Philippians where St. Paul teaches; Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as more important than yourself. (Phil 2: 3)

I miss my Mom. I miss those days. Life was less hectic. In my memory, people were calmer and friendlier. Whether this is true or not is hard to tell but the desire to recapture the feeling is real. The world today feels different. The market place has changed drastically; in some ways for the better but not in all ways. Unlike days gone by, buying and selling in our modern economy is often mediated by a device of some sort. We live in a constructed world of “convenience”. But it’s not nearly as much fun. In many ways, relationships have been replaced with computers.

My mother’s example taught me to honor the energy of God found in creation and in each person who is a little eternity and a mystery to be discovered. She showed me that relationship is truly the central theme of our Christian faith. We profess belief in the Holy Trinity; that God is essentially a quality of relationship itself, an event of communion. Our journey as disciples is a journey to a fuller realization of life in the Trinity and what it means to be a part of that boundless movement that continuously calls us forth and draws us back in an infinite exchange of mutual love. It is a life of giving and receiving between participants equal in all aspects, a reciprocity of needs and gifts.

Journeys are filled with the unknown and require faith. Journeys are exciting and mysterious but often risky, demanding and uncomfortable. If we are open, our journey can take us to what Pope Francis refers to as the “existential peripheries”; to people and places that are out of our normal routines or control but stretch us beyond our comfort zones.  Each new encounter with another person is certainly inherent with risk. But inherent also is the potential for blessing. We don’t know until we try.

I decided to make Lent 2017 a season to honor “the other”; to make a thoughtful effort to be more like my Mom. One way to do this was to form new habits in my relationship to the market place and its modern conveniences which make it possible to do business without any face to face communication with a person. Today’s market economy encourages us to pay at the pump, self-check at the grocery store, use mobile deposits, drive up to the ATM machine, take advantage of post office kiosks, order online, etc. We are told that these conveniences will save us time and energy but I can’t help but wonder if they don’t unintentionally contribute to loneliness and isolation. What once were natural and comfortable exchanges between individuals now seem awkward and almost abnormal. Our collective psyche is being molded to consider the other not so much as gift but more as a problem to be avoided. If the Fuller Brush man appeared today, I’m sorry to say that my reception would probably not be as it was years ago. I’ve been swept into the “too busy” way of thinking. I don’t believe this is the person my mother raised me to be.

These past six weeks I have been “fasting” from these conveniences and since embarking on this Lenten fast, I’ve called more people by name, offered gratitude more frequently, smiled more often and reassured others on a job well done; all forms of blessing. I have deliberately chosen to take extra time and go out of my way, but I must admit, I’ve experienced a profound sense of happiness. Yes, I’ve had short tempered attendants and fought my own impatience, but my decision to see the other with new eyes has allowed me to be disturbed less easily and to pay attention to the preferences and demands I make as a consumer.

The Law of Karma states that what we put out into the universe comes back to us. What we do to another, we do to ourselves. Simple really. I’m learning it is possible to recapture that feeling of a calmer and friendlier world. I just need to seek community over immunity and breath out what I desire to breathe in.

Happy Easter!

Mary Garlow

Monday, April 25, 2016

What if We Run out of Jesus?

On the way into Mass last Sunday, this is the question asked of me by my five year old granddaughter.

I had never even thought of that. But she did. After a moment I replied “well, we can’t run out of Jesus. It is impossible. When God raised him up he became superabundant!” She smiled and repeated the word, Superabundant.”

What a great question. What a great word. What a great concept; something so good and so plentiful that we never run out. How fortunate for us.

In her five years of life on this planet Fiona has learned what it means to run out of something she loves. She worries about her special little pal, Bunny, which she has carried with her everywhere since she was a year and a half old. Bunny is pretty tattered now. It has been sown and glued and everything we can think of to protect its fragile fur. But Bunny is running out. Death is real and Fiona, already at her tender age, knows this.

During the Triduum, we recall how the world did run out of Jesus for a day. We commemorate that day and call it Holy Saturday. The tabernacles are all empty. Jesus disappeared from sight on that day in history. It appeared that violence had won. Good had attracted evil and evil consumed the good. The world was dark and bleak as if all the color had been drained out. Both religious and civil leaders set out to destroy Jesus and it appeared as if they succeeded. At this time, the playing field had been leveled. No one was better than anyone else. All stood in need of redemption.

But out of death came life, out of rejection came rebirth. He rose. Death had not won. Alive again, he was hardly recognizable. He looked like everyone else. Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him, the disciples didn’t recognize him, and the travelers on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Him.  Resurrected, He became superabundant. He became universal.

To ensure we would never again be without him, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit and instituted the sacraments by which we have access to transformative, sanctifying grace. But Jesus also taught us that he is to be found in the poor, the marginalized, the sick and suffering. He promised to be among us when we gather in his name. He is in the assembly of His faithful. He is in families. He is in the joys and sorrows of everyday life. He instructed us to love one another and to treat each other with dignity and respect. What we do to the least, we do to Him. He is with us till the end of time in so many ways so as to ensure, we will never run out.

Fiona, Jesus is everywhere. Most importantly, his abundant life, he gives to you!

Mary Garlow

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Church Ignited

When my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Henzie, offered extra credit for pronouncing and accurately spelling the word behind the acronym DNA, I rose to the occasion. Deoxyribonucleic acid was indeed a challenging word for a 12 year old, but I was a good speller and enjoyed the benefits of a good memory.

Understanding DNA is a bigger challenge than spelling it. Those gifted with a scientific mind can describe its components detailing genomes, nucleotides and chromosomes and how they all fit together. I simply know that this chemical substance contains genetic coding that is passed on from one generation to the next.

When Archbishop Vigneron stated that he is seeking a “change in the very DNA of the Church in Detroit”, I began thinking, what does that mean? Does Church have DNA? How can we decode it? If a DNA test was performed on the Church, what would it reveal?

In 1974 Pope Paul VI called for a Synod of Bishops to focus on evangelization. The Bishops performed a pseudo DNA test on the Church which revealed that the gene for evangelization had weakened and the Church was not reproducing the faith in others as she once had. They began decoding the Church’s DNA from which Pope Paul VI wrote the Magna Carta document; Evangelization in the Modern World. This document reignited the whole Church towards her primary mission and sparked a resurgence of the gene for evangelization.

In keeping with this momentum, Archbishop Vigneron has launched Synod 16 to resurge Detroit in the area of evangelization.  He hopes that this synod will help us better understand how we can be an evangelizing diocese, established in our time and sustained through future generations. Through this synod process, the Archbishop seeks to reawaken the hearts of the faithful to have a renewed encounter with Jesus, to grow in relationship with Him and to share Him with others. He wants us to be a Church on mission.

Working in the office of evangelization has offered me a chance to run some diagnostic work in parishes and Catholic organizations. I have discovered some common cultural norms that actually work against evangelization and mission and must be corrected if transformation is to occur. They are as follows:

De evangelizing parish cultural norms
Evangelizing parish cultural norms
Belief that faith is a private matter
Correction: While faith in Jesus is personal, it is not meant to be private. Being a disciple means we have been chosen by God to take Jesus into the world. We can say no to God’s choice if we wish, but then our faith will fizzle and God will have to find someone else.
Belief that evangelization is for the ordained
Correction: evangelization is for the Baptized and Confirmed. Through these sacraments we receive gifts and charisms and are sent on mission. Ordained ministers are at the service of the lay faithful, that they may grow in holiness and be  sent into the world.
Belief that formal education is a pre requisite to evangelization
Correction: It’s not about us and what we know, it’s about the Holy Spirit who moves in and through the Body of Christ, sends us on mission and gives us the words or actions needed for evangelization.
Belief that Catholics don’t evangelize
Correction: evangelization is at the very heart of our identity. The Catholic Church exists in order to evangelize. Catholics are the original evangelizers.

Archbishop Vigneron intends that through Synod 16 “we will inform ourselves of the nature and practice of evangelization as our first and most important pastoral activity. As a diocese, we will seek to establish practices encouraging and nurturing evangelization as a normal activity in our Catholic institutions.”

Synod 16 promises to be an exciting time in Detroit as we decode and recode our Church DNA and radically change how we do things. Passing on the faith is everyone’s business and our number one concern. We are saved in order to be sent.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Field Day

My high school didn't do traditional homecoming festivities. Instead we had Field Day. I loved Field Day! Once a year, the entire class would join together. We'd all dress alike, we'd learn a masterfully choreographed march to a catchy beat and on that fall day we'd line up along the road next to the high school. Each class had their designated area. In my class, there were nearly 600 of us. Impressive! Powerful!

The beat would commence, and we'd begin to march, all in sync, along the road and into the gym. It was great fun. What made it even more special was that everyone mattered. No longer were we the rich, the poor, the jocks, the greasers, the nerds, the burnouts, or whatever in between. On that day, we blended into one class with one common goal, to defeat the other classes. Field Day was the great equalizer of my high school days. If anyone was missing we were less effective, we'd show less of a united force and we were less likely to WIN!

As I was growing up, I also loved my parish. I found sanctuary there and a true sense of belonging. I was aware that I was part of something big and I mattered. Today, I understand why. In the Body of Christ everyone matters, all the time. No one is insignificant. It is in this communion that we are formed as leaders and discover our giftedness, our effectiveness and the mission to which we are sent.

Leadership development in the parish is important. It is different than in the secular world where leaders are often associated with authority, power and a spirit of competition. In the parish, leadership is developed with a sense of the sacred. We learn how we can lead others to the Word of Life in a spirit of complementarity and we constantly seek to develop more leaders. One way in which we lead is through our charisms. God has empowered his faithful with charisms so He can reach “the many” for whom Christ died. When we gather for the Liturgy, hear the message to be taken out, are fed with the energy from the Resurrected Body, we become a powerful force to be reckoned with. At the Liturgy, we get in sync, we pay attention and we get our marching orders. But are we even aware of this?

Pope Francis referred to the Church as a Field Hospital. He said “ the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.” He said we are to be “ministers of mercy” and announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2015.

It occurs to me that every day in the Church must be like a Field Day. Everyday the leaders (AKA disciples or apostles) must show up for the mission to be accomplished. Every day we must be ready to make our contribution, to say “yes” and to lead through our charisms which are destined
to accomplish great things.

Field Day needs everyone. No charism is insignificant as each works in harmony with the others. Let us get in the line up, let us be lost in the crowd. Let's let mercy lead! We can do this, together!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Make Believe

It has been said that the greatest nation is our imagination. I'm not sure who first coined this phrase, but I like it. In a world that often seems bleak, it is our imagination that can transcend the bleakness and take us to a better place. At least for a little while.
I am lucky to have a grand daughter. She has reintroduced me to the land of make believe. We go there all the time. It is populated with mermaids, unicorns, butterflies, owls, the royal family and of course, the bad guy named Hans. Hans causes a lot of trouble and is constantly in need of forgiveness and of another chance to get it right. In this land of make believe, living the virtues still doesn't come naturally. Fallen human nature is still a problem.
Pope Francis just paid a visit to the United States. I, like so many, were glued to the live stream of his addresses to the White House, Congress, USCCB, The United Nations and finally to the World Meeting of Families. His words helped me to imagine a better world for my grand daughter. If we, like Hans, can overcome our fallen human nature, we have a chance at putting an end to fighting, caring for the land, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, ending poverty, upholding all life as sacred and learning to forgive and to start over. For those of us chosen to be Catholic Christians, our hope in a better world comes from our faith in Jesus. It is Jesus who summons us to leave behind our old ways, who teaches us the ways of heaven and with great confidence entrusts us to pass on to our families the beauty of the Christian life. In Jesus we find revealed all we need for our imaginations to take off.
Pope Francis said that our families will be strong edifices of love if they are built on beauty, goodness and truth. He said beauty is the path that leads to God. Where there is beauty, goodness and truth are close behind. These three transcendent qualities of God are always present together. 
The imagination is the receptor of beauty. So maybe that's why the imagination is the greatest nation.
Not too long ago I heard an interview with John O'Donohue, the Irish poet. He spoke of the imagination and the landscape of beauty. He said that often times people comment that they have no imagination. Not true, O'Donohue replied, we are all ex babies. 
Let's activate our imaginations and go to the land of make believe often. Let's fill it with acts of love and paint the landscape with the living words spoken by our Holy Father. Maybe, just maybe, we shall experience a bit of heaven on earth and more importantly, we will find a way to contribute to the creation of a better world for our grandchildren.
Mary Garlow