Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to get a horse back to pasture...

I had an experience last summer while on a mission trip that taught me a great lesson. I was working on a horse farm with a bunch of kids. We were to cut weeds, trim trees and pull this horrid parasitical vine out of the trees. The one thing we were NOT supposed to do was leave the gates open and let the horses out. The second day we were there one of the kids left a gate open to a pasture that had only one horse in it. I knew we had to get this animal back without telling the owner so we decided we could push it back in. It was only standing about 10 feet from the gate so we thought it would be easy to give him a few hard shoves and then quickly close the gate. Two big teenage football players and I could not move this horse even one inch. As we tried to force this big animal by brute strength something amazing happened. The granddaughter of the owner, a little girl of about 4, pulled a handful of grass and clover and stood in front of the horse. It followed her back into the pasture and she closed the gate. Wow, did I feel foolish!
For years I have been trying to get certain people to re-engage their Catholic faith. These are persons who have no hostility toward the Church or God or anything like that. They simply have grown into a lifestyle that does not include the practice of prayer, faith, Mass, etc. Despite my best efforts I have had little or no luck in "pushing" them back into the Church. Then Pope Francis wrote a document entitled "The Joy of the Gospel". It is a lengthy piece but the message is clear - you lead people to (and back to) the Church by the JOY and PEACE they see in your life. Certainly, you may need to witness with words at times but the chief way of attracting others to a life of faith is the witness of your life.  
It makes me wonder what I am holding out to persons who are away from their faith. If what I show them is force and bullying they are going to resist with all of their might. If I show them that they are missing out on a life of true joy maybe they will hurry back on their own.

Live this day in the peace and love of this Holy Season. You never know who might follow!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Waiting

Advent, for most of the Church's history, has been a time of quiet, Holy waiting. You don't have to go too far back in time (maybe 100 years) to find an era when people treated Advent with the reverence it deserves. Advent is a time to wait. But we don't like to wait for anything in our culture today, do we? We have grown so accustomed to having what we want, when we want it, that we don't want to wait for anything anymore. That's because we see waiting as boring, frustrating and empty. In reality, the opposite is true, but we need to learn to wait rightly. Waiting rightly is a source of  peace, joy, and fulfillment. It gives a perspective on life that will never be seen in the anxiety and tension of our "get it now" culture.
I am around a lot of people who are forced to wait. I visit teenagers at the local detention center who are waiting - for their court appearance - for their mother to visit them - for a phone call from anyone. I have been visiting one young person who has been locked up for 4 years. She has to wait all of the time for the next hearing date, the next judge's decision or for a phone call from her lawyer. I visit people in the hospital who are waiting for a visit from their doctor - hopefully with good news. I see people in the nursing home who are waiting for a visit - from anyone. I pray with people in hospice who are waiting, waiting, waiting - to die. The funny thing is that most of these people, in hind-sight, say that the waiting was a very good thing for them. They tell me that they needed that time in "suspended animation" so they could order their own lives more rightly. They tell me they needed that time to finally learn how to pray.
Please, please, please use this Advent Season to wait. Wait for God in the stillness this season was designed to give. He might just surprise you and show up.