Thursday, September 21, 2017

Picking Dandelions

I wrote this for the local paper a couple of weeks ago.  In rereading it, I decided it should go here too.


Two coinciding events have served as points of reflection for me over the last couple of weeks.  First, at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, we have nearly finished a project in which we have replaced our pews and flooring.  Both were necessary simply from the perspective of standard building maintenance.  Both were desirable inasmuch as these new pews and flooring are more beautiful than what we had previously.  Second, I presided over a wedding at the parish of St. John Cantius in Chicago.  I do not exaggerate to suggest that it is one of the most beautiful churches I have seen on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.  The building, completed in 1889, is the fruit of the sacrifice and dedication of Polish immigrants.  Upon arrival in Chicago, before building their own homes or schools, they built their church.  As typical in the baroque style, the Church is filled with arches, magnificent stained glass, and a gorgeous high altar.  The main aisle is wood inlaid with various Christian symbols.  Thick wooden doors separate the nave from the vestibule.  Everything is covered in gold.

Why?  Is such grandeur necessary?  Should it be done?  These are, in part, questions about which Catholics and various groups of Protestants have disagreed for centuries.  To my mind, however, beauty is an essential element in Christian worship.  The Polish immigrants who built St. John Cantius and the Catholics who helped refloor our Church here in Martin did not do so because a vain and avenging God demanded as much.  Rather, moved by the knowledge that God gave his life for the sake of man’s salvation, and inspired by his infinite love and mercy, these people desired to offer something in return.  They wanted to give something back to God as a demonstration of their own love and gratitude for him.  They knew, of course, that no human construction would ever be enough to repay the debt of gratitude owed to the Lord.  But they gave anyway, acknowledging that when we live lives in which all good things come to us as gift, we must give in return.

This sentiment should motivate our worship each day.  The way we dress, the way we speak, the way we sing, even our attentiveness to the Scriptures and to the sermon are ways in which we offer a little back to the Lord.  It is not as though we are doing any of these things to earn his love.  They are, instead, responses to his love.  At issue is not whether God will love or accept us.  Of course he will!  He will love us even if we don’t dress well, if we don’t sing, or if we don’t participate.  At stake is what we do in response to God’s love.  An analogy helps demonstrate my point:

A small child will bring a bouquet of freshly picked and slightly crushed dandelions to his mother as a spontaneous response to the love he receives from her.  His mother’s life is little improved by a gift of a fistful of weeds, but she recognizes the love that motivates the gesture.  The child fulfills a need of his own to reciprocate the love he receives from his mother.  The mother loves him no less if he doesn’t bring her flowers, but she does appreciate the gesture.  With God it is the same.  Psalm 116 asks, “How can I make a return to the Lord for all he done for me?”  In short, we can give nothing that is commensurate with what we have received.  But that should not stop us from trying. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Merry Christmas 2016

January 2017


It is not without cause that those closest to me accused me of “scroogishness” this Christmas.  Convention dictates that a Christmas Letter be joyful and hopeful and glad.  It is, I suspect, because of this encumbrance that I have found writing this letter to be onerous this year.  As I complete my annual retrospective, the moments that stand out are mostly sad.  Our community has buried more than our share of people in the last twelve months.  A dear friend of mine, only a year older than me, died suddenlyleaving her toddler daughter without a mother.  Another friend’s father and a respected teacher from my high school days also died unexpectedly.  Regular notices of people diagnosed with serious illness have punctuated our community’s grief.  Short days, unnecessarily cold weeks, and frustratingly frequent snows have left me feeling little Christmas cheer.  Indeed, it was only as Christmas drew to its conclusion and the season of Ordinary Time commenced that the ageless proclamation that God Is Made Man began to peel away the spiritual cataracts that had perpetuated my dimness of soul. 

We hear each year, “The people who dwell in darkness have seen a great light.”  That light, Jesus Christ, tiny and innocent, lived and died and lives again.  Because he lives, death has no power here.  Sickness has no power.  The light always defeats the darkness.  Thus, even as I sit writing and twilight lingers, I realize that darkness arrives a half hour later than it did just a few weeks ago.  The year was not so bad.  I caught some nice trout, and almost caught an extraordinary one (He would probably have been the biggest I have ever caught.  He broke my line just as I brought him to net).  I talked myself into buying a dog, and then promptly talked myself out of it.  I spent a weekend in Georgia.  I witnessed the weddings of beautiful, happy couples.  I blessed the farms and ranches of extraordinarily good and kind people.  Rain came regularly and the grass was green well into the summer.  It was nearly Thanksgiving before it finally snowed.  I am sponsor to not just one, but to two exceptional young men preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I have not hit a deer yet.  My people are kind.  My parishes are solvent.  Things could be much worse.

God does not require that we pretend all is well if all is not well.  He does, however, call us to seek him where he may be found.  2016, in a number of obvious ways, was bleak and hard.  To see God sometimes required that we squint.  But there were plenty of moments of light.  Therefore, I resolve, in 2017, to try to dwell in the light.  One source of that light is God’s love as I experience it through you.  Thank you for all you do for me.  Thank you for your kind and thoughtful sentiments this season.  I am deeply grateful.  Know of my continued prayers that 2017 will be a year filled with light, and that you will receive all of God’s richest blessings.

In Christ,
 Fr. Tyler