Belief and Belonging

It’s a late December day in Jerusalem. Jesus is walking in the Temple area, and as usual, he’s drawing a crowd during the Feast of the Dedication (better known to us as Hanukkah). The people have come with a question. Perhaps they’ve heard one of Jesus’s enigmatic parables, or witnessed one of his miracles.  Or maybe they just want to trap him into saying something they consider blasphemous.  Whatever the motive, they ask: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Seems as an odd choice for a gospel so soon after Easter. How could we be “in suspense” after the Resurrection? But then again, maybe it tells us the truth about how faith works.

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Baptism and Home

I can remember coming home from 3+ years of mission in Kenya, friends were driving me home, and as we wound through trees, I could see the porch light on at my home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Even from afar, it shone like a welcoming beacon. It was the sign I am home in a place I have always belonged. It was known, calm, and safe. It was far from the wildness and messiness of life of the slums of Kibera. It is the same moment we have seen on the evening news, in newspapers, on-line in the experience of our men and women serving overseas in foreign lands. Coming home writ large is the heavy bags dropped on the tarmac, the faces of unbridled joy, parents sweeping up children in their arms, a loved one embraced, and the moment they know: I am home.

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A view from the kitchen window

As part of formation for solemn vows as a Franciscan friar, you spend a whole year living outside the world of formation and studies. You live with a friar community involved in full-time ministry. I was assigned to a large parish in Raleigh, N.C. It is a large parish with almost 5,000 households and lots of ministries, meetings, activities, and all manner of things that occurred day and night.

One weekday evening after finishing a meal and cleaning up in the kitchen, I happened to look out the window into the parish parking lot. The friary was located in one corner of the 40-acre campus and afforded a view of the whole upper parking lot… (pausing here to recall being in a parish with unlimited parking…sigh!…) Anyway…the entire lot was filled, and lights were on over in the parish offices, meeting rooms, and gathering spaces. Looking over my shoulder I asked my brother friars if any of them had meetings this night. We were all there and not a one of us had a meeting to attend. While we were generally aware of what was going on in the parish, on this particular evening, we could only guess what exactly was unfolding in those gatherings. Continue reading

The Porch Light

It is not all that unusual that people will tell me that they find themselves waking up on Sunday morning somewhat less-than-excited about coming to Mass. “Father, it is so the-same-thing week after week, I find my mind wanders, I don’t get much out it, too many times I receive Communion and just keep walking out the door” I will almost always ask them, “When are thinking about coming to church, who do you look forward to seeing” – and I ask that God, Jesus or the priest not be their answer. Almost always the reply is “no one” or “I really don’t know anyone at the parish – I just park, come in, receive Eucharist, and go home.” Continue reading

Belonging and the Parish

Several years ago, I wrote a series of pastor columns on aspects of what it means to belong to a parish. If you would like to read the whole series, it can be found here: friarmusings.com/belonging

Where to begin? At the beginning is always a good place – and for Catholics the beginning is Baptism. Each time we enter church it is our tradition to mark ourselves with the Sign of the Cross using water from the holy water fonts. It is a moment to recall the words the priest proclaimed at your Baptism: “I claim you for Christ.” From that moment you belong to Christ and are a member of His people. You belong, not in some abstract way, but in a time and place and with a community of people. Continue reading

How Will You Belong? The Stranger at Our Doors

Welcome-StrangersI have often mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality. Continue reading

What ever you do…

Whatever_you_doEarlier in the calendar year, here in this column, we talked about belonging as the gateway to a life of faith as an individual, as a family, and as a believing community. While we are prone to think the people of faith are the ones who belong, in fact, it is people who find an abiding sense of belonging to a worshipping community that become people of faith. In fact, that sense of belonging imbues and precedes almost every aspect of community life: faith, worship, stewardship, volunteering, and so much more. In the weeks since our celebration of the Mass of Belonging, consider the way in which people continue to talk about their experience of the Mass. Part of that conversation has been the experience of seeing so many people under one roof, so many voices raised in praise to God, and knowing this is family. Belonging. Continue reading

Moving fences

Franciscans34“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

It is a great passage, a great image, but… I suspect when we hear that word “yoked” a particular image comes to mind. We imagine two or more beasts of burden, a huge twin harness joining them, while they pull the heavily weighted wagon, till the fields, and perform all manner of really hard work. Yet there is some comfort in the idea that the work is shared, the harness adjusted to fit, and together with a kind of family – all geared towards a common mission and purpose. Continue reading

How Will You Belong? The Stranger at Our Doors

Welcome-StrangersLast week in this column I mused about the connections of being a welcoming community and hospitality. As part of that musing, I wondered about the distinction between entertaining and hospitality, surmising that it perhaps depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. If the model is from Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine – then perhaps “entertaining” is a better description. As a church of believing Christians, it would be best to look to Jesus for models of hospitality. Continue reading

Belonging Renewed

Belonging_crI want to renew and continue the conversation we began about belonging in this column space from the beginning of this year. There has been lots of feedback about it — it seems to have struck a deep cord with people. In a previous column I wrote, “The creation of that good soil church begins when each one here begins a conversation with, ‘Hello, my name is….’ and continues each week as the conversation grows, bearing fruit, when someone suggests, ‘You know what we should do?’ Then in the doing, faith grows, purpose becomes clearer, prayer comes more naturally, forgiveness more easily.” Since then, it seems to me, that people are a bit more engaging with people around them, there are some new “pew communities” forming, and people are beginning to ask about the welfare of folks when they are missing from Mass. All signs of the beginning of a deeper belonging. Continue reading