Sunday, January 22, 2017

Spiritual Snack: (Almost a full meal :)

My dear brothers and sisters…I think we can say that the message in today’s readings is a simple one…we are given a contrast between light and darkness.  Both exist in this world, and we will experience both as we travel the path of life.  One way to understand today’s readings is as God’s help for us in knowing the attitude we should take when we experience deep darkness, and also great light.  


It’s an important reminder, because many fall into the temptation of giving too much attention to the problems or difficulties of life…to the darkness.  And doing this can blind us to the light that is there, and make it hard to see the solutions and opportunities God wants to give.


It’s not as simple as saying that my personality makes me a “glass half empty” or a “glass half full” kind of person.  The person who gives too much attention to the difficulties and dark is in danger of becoming a hopeless soul…a sad soul who let’s themselves be enslaved by resentment and anger.  On the other hand, the person who is able to recognize the many gifts they have received (and there are no exceptions…we have all received gift upon gift from our God), is able is experience supernatural joy and to share with others what he has received.


So maybe it’s not as simple as it looks at first glance.  We know that it’s easy to distinguish between light and dark.  But it’s not as easy to have the correct attitude when we are in the midst of the darkness that is present in this world.  Let’s ask the Holy Spirit’s help in understanding.  There are many problems in this world that seem larger than us, and too big to overcome…poverty, injustice, politics, etc.  The origin of darkness is ignorance, and also bad intentions.  I have seen that is can fill the soul who makes the decision to dwell in the darkness…to pay too much attention to it.


There is another perspective that is needed.  Not a perspective that ignores the reality of darkness, but one that gives the proper attention to the light that is always there.  It can feel impossible at times, but ultimately it is our choice to give our attention to either the light or the darkness.  Do we really believe that the light is more powerful than the darkness…because it comes from God?


It is interesting that when Jesus was in the most difficult and painful situations, He always focused on the light in His Heart.  He always focused on the good He could do.  He never focused His attention on the cruelty or pride of the Roman Empire, or centered His preaching on the negative aspects of life, like sickness or poverty (which, by the way, was an overwhelming reality in His time).  His preaching wasn’t focused on the racial or political divisions that were prevalent, even though it was true that His Jewish brothers and sisters were divided, and there were real prejudices between the Jews and Samaritans of His time.


Jesus made a choice to put His whole Heart into spreading the light.  The end of today’s gospel summarizes the way Christ lived His life…”teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and curing every disease and illness among the people.”  Our Lord doesn’t ignore evil, but combats it by always asking, “What is the good I can do?  What is the good that can come out of this situation?”  This was His motto for life.


Maybe it will help for me to relate what I am trying to say with my experience in coming to America years ago.  One of the first things I noticed was that there is a difference between the way someone lives their faith in the United States, and the way it is lived it in South America.  It is true that we have our own problems in Peru, but the many warm expressions of our faith life, the groups and apostolic movements that are present, the many activities that happen during the week in one small parish…I saw that they were not present here in the same way.


To be honest, coming here (first to California in 2012, and then to Minnesota) felt like entering a long winter…almost like a winter that would never end.  Maybe it was something like what CS Lewis describes in his Chronicles of Narnia.  At least in my mind, it was a little like entering a world where the evil witch was keeping the world in constant winter.  I thought that, because the ways of living the faith that I was used to were not as present here, it was a place of winter.


Of course the bad thing about having this perspective is that one can quickly become negative.  One can begin to critique everything and get accustomed to looking only at the bad (not just in the situations we find ourselves in, but in our own hearts).  And when we do that, we essentially train ourselves to spend our strength on what is negative, without moving to a focus on how we can use every situation to do good and to find light.  I need to confess that I failed in this when I first moved to California years ago.  


My attitude was off.  For a moment, I thought I was coming to a part of the world that didn’t believe in God…a place with empty Churches for Mass…a Church that doesn’t have anything to say to young people…a Church with irrelevant leaders, irrelevant speeches…a place where the media makes fun of God and the Church (remember that 12 years ago I was a young and inexperienced, newly ordained priest).   At that time, it looked to me like the Church in America was under attack and that none of her baptized children were standing up to defend her.      


It’s not surprising that, over time, this way of thinking started to make my perspective more and more “dark” with respect to the time God was going to ask me to remain in America and even with regard to the future of the Catholic faith.  But even though the problems were real (this was the beginning of the crisis and the scandals), my perspective made me extremely short-sighted…blind to all of the goodness to be found in souls and all the beauty to be found in many, many hearts.  It made me miss all of the joy to be found, even in the midst of a cold winter.  That sort of attitude can make us miss the heroic perseverance found in souls who find themselves in the midst of persecution or difficulty and still proclaim the sovereignty of Christ.  That sort of attitude can make us miss so many beautiful opportunities that Christ has for us…new initiatives for evangelization that are happing right now in this country.  


As you can see, this is humbling for me.  I invite you, my brothers and sisters, to pay better attention to the gifts you have received at your baptism.  Yes, there are many bad things in the world and in the Church…but also many good things…many initiatives and apostolates that are only going to start if you are a part of them.  The light God wants to bring will never happen if you are focused on the negative.  Each of you is given a torch and it is your responsibility to pass it to the next generation, still burning brightly…strong with the love of God.  


I assure you that you have received blessings that I don’t have.  God loves originality…He is an artist who is always creating what is new.  You have received many blessings and they are not meant to be kept for you.  If you can pronounce the name of Jesus with faith, hope and love, that means that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.  Never forget that God invites you (and asks you) to take the light He has given you and follow the example of Jesus, who never wasted time focusing on the negative or engaging in criticism and complaint.  He was focused on the light and on solutions.  He took what He had and put it to work.


In the famous Parable of the Talents, He makes this clear to us.  He reminds us…you have received many talents (many gifts from God)…what are you going to do with them?  Let’s not fall into the temptation of thinking that things are too bad and there is nothing that can be done.  Doing that would make us like the servant who put what he had in a hole and just waited around for the master to return.  Let’s take the risk of trying to do something good, with trust that God will bless our efforts and make them bring light into the world.  


 Mary, don't let me lose hope... like your Immaculate Heart, help me see the effects of the power of the Blood of your Son when it touches me and through me many other souls, Amen.

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