13 km to go to Assisi!

After hiking 128 km from Rieti to Spello I have only 13 km to go before I arrive in Assisi! I can actually see it from the wall of the hilled city of Spello, neighbouring city of Assisi. I am so exited and so grateful! 

It has been quite a journey so far. I would classify the highlights into two different aspects: 1) Those I would chalk up under the column “adventure” and throes I would put under the column “pilgrimage”. I suppose very true pilgrimage involves a fair bit of adventure doesn’t it? So, how about the adventure column first?

Well, the first day, as you well know if you’ve been following my blog, started with a bang when I found myself stranded halfway to my destination resulting from a strike! I hung around at the station hoping that the next train would come and each time it didn’t… by about 1pm I was really starting to worry. I needed to get to Rieti very soon, as I had to make it to Poggio Bustone (the site if a Franciscan hermitage built on the site of where Francis would sometimes go to pray with his brothers) and, once there, I would need to hike 18 or 19 km mostly uphill to get there. What’s more, well, it’s June in Italy, which means that by the afternoon it is definitely above 30 degrees. So, I started looking for a cab or a bus or anything to get me the rest of the way now that I realized I couldn’t wait any longer. I finally did manage to find a cab and two others in the same situation as me so we were able to split the 100 euro cab ride!! Wow! But, I arrived and could start and start I did at about 2:30pm. I had some ground to cover. I did make it to my destination at about 7:30pm and boy was I tired and hungry!! Thanks be to God for a good host who looked after me and fed me that night. Here is a picture of the following morning when I could finally visit the Franciscan sanctuary:


Oh, and here is a view from my room that night…


There were a few upsides when I finally arrived. Wow! What a day! I’m glad that I made it. Thanks be to God! 

The second major adventure came as a result of what we’ll call ‘Michael error’. Yup, I made a mistake in thinking that 32km would be ok to hike in a day and, not just the distance but, over a mountain as well! Oh I was asking for this one… I still can’t believe how I did it. I started at 6am and hiked until 3:30pm with really only two breaks – I don’t know what was harder, go my up or down? Man, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hard hike! The vistas were amazing though, especially on the way up! Unfortunately I don’t have any good shots as I was in business mode while on my hike. I took a wrong turn at one point and ended up having to hike about an extra kilometre or so to make up for it – I am so grateful I caught it and am a bit surprised I did as somethingbjust didn’t feel right – I had not seen a marker for a while and I felt like I was going the wrong direction too… it’s easy to miss a turn when hiking uphill for so long as you sort of out your nose to the ground and look only at the step right in front of you (this way you are less discouraged by what lies up up ahead). When I finally made it to my hotel I cleaned up and slept and slept and then tended to my poor feet. I have had to really look after them after that day as they paid the price the most I think. I will spare you a picture…

As for the pilgrimage highlights? Well, two main ones have to do with locations connected with St. Francis. The first was at the Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone, mentioned above, where Francis used to pray. They have built the sanctuary over the cave where he would pray but have preserved the cave so that you can still visit it. There is a built a wooden crucifix in a spot where it is believed he would pray and i was able to pray there by myself first thing in the morning. Just beautiful! Truly a special moment to recall. What a peaceful place and to be here first thing in the morning was tremendous – it was so quiet and prayerful. Here is a picture of the place I prayed:


The second place is also a place associated with St. Francis and His prayer. It is called Monteluco and was offered to him as a place for retreat and prayer. He would go up there before there was anything there and pray. They have built a small church and monastery over the place and built a tiny tiny chapel mover a rock where Francis is said to have abandoned himself to the Lord – which likely means a type of surrender to the will or God and God’s will. I was able to pray a moment here too and am so grateful for I remember being ked to pray a similar prayer of abandonment and surrender to the Lord. Also, the Franciscan brother even gave me an apple and a small fruit (not certain what it is but it is similar to a nectarine) which was a beautiful comfort as this was in the midst of my longest day over the mountain and it helped tide me over until I arrived at Spoleto. Here is the spot where I was able to pray: 


Plus, they had some cells that were built a little after Francis (one of which Michealangelo stayed in to escape his work in Rome – sounds familiar!). They are pretty humble to say the least – check one out:


Pretty incredible little cells! They were beautiful in a very austere way and it’s hard to describe the experience of being there where so many people have so seriously prayed to the Lord. I won’t forget it ever I think. Every door had a a beautiful written on it: Bkessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”. Very moving.

Well, those are a few adventures and experiences I’ve had so far and I am still to arrive in Assisi, which I will do tomorrow by He afternoon. I am hoping to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Francesco. May the Lord provide! The following morning I will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Santa Chiara for a group of American pilgrims and then I am off to Rome before coming home the following day. 

May God bless you and know that you are in my prayers and I am doing my best to carry you and your burdens with me along the way to Assisi. My brothers and sisters in Christ, keep walking for the Lord loves you and is with you and will bring you to your destination with joy and peace and love! 

See you in the Eucharist!!

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SCIOPERO!

So, I got up early this morning and hiked three kilometres to the train station in order to begin my cammino from Rieti to Assisi over the next week. All was going to plan until my train made it to Terni where I needed to make a transfer to a regional train. I got off the train to look for my transfer and … SCIOPERO! 

This is a word you get used to hearing fairly often here in Italy – it means ‘strike’. It seems like no one strikes more here in Italy than public transit. I was wondering how I was going to make it the rest of my way to my starting point of Rieti but, good news, there is another train that they decided not to ‘cancellato’. So grateful! Praise God! Plus, I discovered a little statue of St. Francis in the train station – I am in the right place and all will ok! 

Well, until later. It looks like it is going to be a hot one! Here we go! Amen! St. Francis and St. Clare…. PRAY FOR US!

THANK YOU!

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Guess what? I am finished! I have completed my first year in Rome! I literally just completed my last exam, paid a visit to the Blessed Sacrament to say thank you to God and now I want to do the same to all of you!

Thank you so very much to each and every one of you who has supported me with all of your prayers throughout my academic year! I am so grateful! It is hard to express how challenging this year has been as the challenges were very unique and new for me – many of which pertained to language and communication. Please know that I am grateful for you all and all of the support you/ve given and the faith you have in me – most especially through your prayer. Thank you for also checking in here at my blog even though I have been so incredibly terrible in updating it once I began my studies. May God bless you and help you each as you need. Thank you for sharing some of my burden throughout this year. It is a blessing to be a part of such a beautiful body of people call the Church! Thanks be to God for the Body of Christ and every one of His members!

Please know that I continue to pray for many of you and will do so before returning home as I am making a hiking pilgrimage to Assisi. I will lift you up on my journey and when I arrive to that holy place in just over a weeks time. May God bless you and keep you in His peace through the grace and love afforded us in Christ Jesus!

Arrividerci da Roma!

In Christ,

Fr. Michael Schumacher

“Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.”

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While in Assis I came across a quote from Santa Chiara (St. Clare) that I had never heard before. Immediately I was struck by the quote as it had a way of succinctly summing up something so very true and important in just a few simple words. It was inscribed somewhere in the Basilica of St. Clare and it was given to me by a friend just a few days before my trip to Assisi. On my way home I began to look for it again on the Internet in order to reflect on it further.

Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name.

This quote has continued to return to me several times over this last week. Maybe the first thing that comes to me ask reflect upon it is how much it is both based upon the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ and how much it continues to point back to that same love. It is enriched by Christ’s great and sacrificial love and it illuminates the depths of His great love for God the Father and for us, His brothers and sisters. No one, not even Jesus, loves suffering or death that comes as a result of such great suffering. So why then would God desire to suffer in such a way as He did in Jesus the Son? Why would He endure such horrible suffering in the passion and the cross? For Love. For the sake of His beloved. For the Father, whom He abides with always in loving communion and for us His beloved ones. He would go through such great suffering for our sake and for the sake of the whole world to see us live, to see us free!

I am reminded of a similar and helpful saying attributed to St. Francis that I read years ago and continue to reflect upon over and over again.

The cross is pure joy.

When I first read this many years ago, I didn’t understand a thing about it, yet, even then, there was something that rang true in my heart when those words first entered therein. Years of reflecting upon those words have brought slow insight into the wisdom they express… Similar to St. Clare’s quote, the wisdom is likewise rooted in the person and love of Christ – especially as it is revealed through His cross. How can there be any joy in suffering? In the cross of all things? It is not the instrument or source of torture that animates ones joy it is the love for whom one gladly suffers that does so! Love of God and live of neighbor to the end! This is the charity of Christ! Is is the definition of love – of God who is love! Love that is total, free and faithful! It is this love that is fruitful and fills us and others with joy! It is this love that gives life even to the dead!

So called love, love that is unwilling to suffer, is exposed as selfishness instead. This easily becomes clear when one considers a so-called love that is unwilling to help, sacrifice, suffer for or even with another person – with the so called beloved. It is evident in this distortion of love, that the person who is unwilling to suffer, is only there for themselves – sadly I think tha this also expresses their unwillingness to suffer even for themselves – to live with discipline where it is good for them to do so.

Going back to the original quote, and to St. Clare and St. Francis: I think that they lived this love in such a profound way. First and foremost towards God as both of them willingly and even joyfully suffered and sacrificed much for the sake of Christ and His gospel. It was also their profound love for God that purified and transformed their love so that they, like and with God, were able to love others too. They did not love only a single person totally but all people and even all of creation! They endured and sacrified much for the love of others too. Think of St. Francis binding up and wounds of the lepers and begging on their behalf in for them to be able to eat or of St. Clare washing daily the feet of her sisters (they went barefoot by the way) as an expression of her love for them. These are profound expressions not only of true love but I would dare say truly happy people, full of not only the love of God but the joy of the Lord as well.

Walking with the Saints

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Anyone who knows me even just a little likely knows that my favourite saint is Saint Francis of Assis (Santa Francesc0 as he is called in Italian). I have long loved this little poor man since some of the earliest days of my conversion and during the time of my discernement of my vocation to the priesthood. I have benefitted so much from his great witness and profound and radical love for all of God’s creation. It is primarily because of the example of St. Francis of Assisi that I often refer to others as my brothers and sisters for he did this not only with other people but even with animals and other aspects of God creation – most profoundly I think was when he was composing his most important “Canticle of the Sun” he named and welcomed death as “sister death”.

As I set out out from Rome for Assisi I must admit that there was a subdued excitement joined with a more substantial seriousness or solemness within me. I was going to a place that I had read about countless times, in order to see and pray at the resting places of two saints who had inspired and guided me during a most important time of my conversion. What would I see and expereince? How would it affect me? I was going to a kind of starting place for my own conversion and setting out to live the gospel. I was definitely on a pilgrimage.

As the train approached Assisi – you can see it some way off from the train as it is built wonderfully atop a mountain – my excitement and emotion grew. It was beautiful to behold with my own eyes, more beautiful than I had ever thought. I had made it and I thanked God for it. What a true blessing this day was. God is good!

Assisi did not dissapoint, apart from the fact that I had only 5 hours to make my way through these holy places, I was moved and touched by so many things during my short stay there. I arrived at the Basilica of Santa Francesco, by the gace of God, just in time for Mass after stading in line for 30 minutes in order to get through security. Follwong Mass I was able to go to confession and, although it was in Italain, it was still a moving and transformative expereince. It was then, after responding to the grace of God as best I could, that I set out to visit the tombs of Brother Francis and Sister Claire. I will not give much details of my experiences there – they are very personal – but I will say that the Francisans have beautifully arranged the chapels for pilgrims to pray in the presence of their burial places. Unlike some of the other places in Rome or even in Assisi, when one descends to these tombs, the people are all rapt in prayer or in devotion and reflection. Prayer and peace is tangible here and it is truly beautiful and it assists the soul in going to God in prayer and seeking the assistance of these saints living in Him. Neither of the basilica’s allow photography and it is such a blessing – it seems like it helps people to be present to where they are and what they are seeing. There were times when I would have loved to capture something with a photograph but I was also so very grateful that I could not try to take something of the sanctity and grandeur of these places (feeble as that effort would have been).

After making a grande tour to several of the major sites in Assisi (the Basilica of Santa Francesco, the Basilica of Santa Chiara, the town square where Francis disrobed and chose to be a son of God the Father, the church where he began the tradition of the nativity cresh by brining in live farm animals, and finally the place where he died in the presence of His brothers) I made my way to the station to take the train back to Rome. I was kept in prayer the whole way home and I was grateful and moved by the love of God for us and for the great faith and trust of St. Francis and St. Claire in that love. I want to follow them in faithfulness and sincerity in living the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord make it possible for us by His grace and may these blessed saints of God continue to help us on our journey.

One thing is certain, I will return to Assisi when I am able.

Vatican City

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I made it to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. It is hard to describe how I felt. I sort of felt like I was at home but more than that. I felt like I was not alone – even though in many ways I am alone here in Rome – and that I belonged there. It was a very beautiful experience just to be there and to not only see but to sense the universality of the Church and some connection with all her members past and present. I spent a fair bit of time just wandering through the square and walking under the collinades (there is a beautiful breeze there). I am not certain what I was thining though as it was a very hot day and I did not have a hat! It won’t take me very long I think to look like one of the Romans!

Once I made it inside I tried to make it around to the various side altars of St. Peter’s and I was able to pray at the altars dedicated to Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. John XXIII. I was grateful to see a number of people praying in these places. I also happend upon the relics of Pope St. Gregory the Great in another side altar! I immediately thought of St. Gregory’s Parish in Holden whose patronage the parish there is entrusted to and I knelt down and prayed for the parish and the people of God there. It was a moving experience being able to do that. May his intercession benefit the people of God in St. Gregory’s Pairsh and lead them to ever greater holiness and joy!

Finally, I decided to walk up the 551 steps to the cupola or dome of St. Peter’s. It was my first little mountain climb since arriving in Europe! As I climbed all I could think of was of a friend of mine who apparently almost died (exaggerating a little here) because of the number of steps. They get narrower and narrower as you get closer to the top and it was quite an amazing thing to see both the dome up close and to look down upon the baldecino and the altar from above. Once at the top a person can see Rome in every direction and it is wonderful to behold. I do not know what time the cupola opens but I think that it would be wonderful to be up there for either sunrise or sunset. I hope to be able to do that sometime. I will leave you with a picture of the cupola. Addiamo!

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Hidden in Rome

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So, I made it to Rome earlier today after a long flight and a little sleep. Blessings to you all who are following my progress. Some undoubtably are wondering whether I am here on a little vacation or something. No, I am here in order to commence studies of Italian which I am to begin on Monday morning. I will do two months of intensive immersive studies – intensivo – as my course is actually called. Then, with hopefully enough progress in Italiano, I will begin a Licentiate in Moral Theology. But, as for today, I was free to wander the streets fo Rome and visit as many Churches as I could.

As I visited numerous Churches I was obviously confronted with a lot of other tourists as the above photo confirms. I was most suprised by how many torusits there were visiting the Pantheon or Santa Maria dei Martiri as it is also called. I was so suprised by the incredible lineup in orderto get in that I decided I would come back another time, perhaps for Mass or in the morning sometime. In each of the Churches that I visited I stopped to pray for a bit or for a while longer than a bit but, in almost all of them, I was confronted with the same experience. Many many people milling about taking millions of pictures (I took my small share as well) but most of them never stopping to pray. I was really struck by the amazing presence that was right underneath their noses (or camera lenses) and how so few of them even realized it. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Pantheon. When I arrived their was an anticipated Sunday Mass in progress so there were guards to keep people form going in. I was grateful for this care to keep sacred the liturgy. Nevertheless, people waited and waited for the smallish group of Mass goers to come out so that they could rush in to see the grande building and space (and indeed it is grande!). I wanted them to know that they looked for beauty, for mystery and for something to awe them but that, although they may have found some of it in the stunning architecture, there was something – Someone – infinitely more awesome and particualry present in that same space in the Eucharistic Lord!

God’s sacramental presence! The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist! They were entering into the proximity of Christ’s most inredible presence and had no idea that God is there in a unique and privildged way… My heart went out to them. I was so grateful to know the Lord was there, in those Churches which were meant to display and captivate and lead people towards Him – to an awareness and an openess of His loving presence and humble love. Oh Lord, grant to many of them the gift of faith and the keenest of experiences to direct and guide their hearts and minds to You, the great and amazing Lord of all. Grant peace to them in such a way that nothing in this world, not even the grandest of Your churches can ever hope to them, so that they are moved to seek You and be drawn to You because of your Merciful gifts.

My dear freinds, thank you for all your prayers, please know that I am grateful for them and I have been and will be praying for you too! May the Lord be with you and grant you His Peace as well – reminding you of the incredible and unfathomable treasure that we have in the Eucharist!

I will see you in the Mass!

Fr. Michael

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“Constant Thanks”

The saint is first and foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having loved or let God love.

Erasmo Leiva


I am using this quote to guide my homily today since as it helps me to articulate what is more subtly expressed in todays gospel. It is thanksgiving weekend after all and the theme of thanksgiving might not be readily drawn out from the readings or from the Lord’s teaching on what is needed in order to enter, as He says, “the kingdom of God.”

The teaching in question comes from an encounter that Jesus has with a rich man who is said to have had “many possessions.” He seeks, and it seems sincerely so, to get an answer from Jesus regarding what he must do to inherit eternal life – to receive eternal life as an inheritance from God. He seems implicitly, or at least by his language, to understand that to receive such from God, he must live as a son. Maybe this point will become more poignant as we look a little more closely at the response given by the only begotten Son of God; by Jesus. He, as the Son, knows what is necessary and He always gives complete thanksgiving to God.

The man asks a sincere question of Jesus and we must assume that he does so to get a good answer. Jesus seems to know him – as he knows everyone – and so he says to him, “you know the commandments…” The man affirms that he does know them by saying that he has “kept all these since [his] youth”. It is then that the striking and telling moment of encounter happens. Jesus, we are told, “looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” What a striking demand the Lord makes on this man. What to me is maybe most important is that the man does not recognize in this invitation from Jesus, that he is being offered a gift. It is almost as if the man, at that point (in his shock), says ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ This is also why he goes away grieving. It is as if he knows he is being offered and invited to something greater and profound but, because of his possessions, he cannot do it.

What does he fail to accept? God’s particular and deepest love for him. How do we know this – he is unwilling to give of himself, he will not trust God with any more or admit his indebtedness through gratitude there. He is, as a result, unable to give thanks to God with his whole life – some of it, he feels, he must keep for himself for his own glory – no thanks to God. He is unable to be truly poor in spirit, which is or course a challenge for all of us! Look then at the example of the disciples who have ‘left everything and followed” Jesus thereby making a complete gift of themselves to God! Is this not the deepest expression of thanksgiving?

When we are truly thankful for someone’s gift to us we make careful and considerate use of that gift in reference to the giver and to their intention. We cannot divide the gift from giver – especially the larger or more profound the gift. Do we not in a certain way acknowledge this connection when we are upset at someone when we have given them a gift and they have misused it? A few simple examples might suffice to demonstrate this. For instance, a simple one that immediately comes to mind for me is when I was ordained, one of my best friends growing up gave me a 30 year old bottle of port. It was a wonderful gift! Guess who I drank it with? I purposefully arranged a dinner with him and his wife so that I could share the gift with them. I understand now, looking back, that that was an important expression on my part of the thanksgiving and gratitude I had not only for the gift but for the giver of the gift as well. Another important place where this can been understood is in marriage. One’s fidelity or faithfulness to their spouse is deeply related to a recognition of the profound gift that they have personally received from their spouse (body and soul!). One’s faithfulness in body and soul towards their spouse is a way of expressing their gratitude towards their spouse and their recognition of the gravity of the gift that their spouse has given in giving their life. On top of all this, if a husband or wife is ungrateful for their spouse, the giver of such a gift and the gift of self that they have made, then he or she will also not be willing to give of themselves either, to offer their own body and soul as a gift to their spouse. How beautiful when gratitude exists in every relationship! What happens is we make a gift of ourselves, sharing our heart with another and, if they receive us in gratitude, what we share with them, they will respect the gift plus the one from whom it came – the giver. By their gratitude they will also sincerely and gently give back to me myself and be moved to give of themselves in return – to reciprocate. Notice what Jesus expresses of those who have given up everything for the sake of Christ – if, in gratitude you have given up everything to follow Jesus, guess what? you will receive a hundredfold! from God in return.

Jesus is the fullest and most complete embodiment of this reality. It is He, the only begotten Son, who has made a complete gift of self to the Father in thanksgiving. Jesus, by doing so, expresses the greatest of gratitude towards God the Father – fully acknowledging God’s goodness and the profound generosity of the giver. Jesus also, in living faithfully and generously towards the Father, not only abides in the Father’s great love but He also respects the gift(s) that the Father has bestowed upon Him and is considerate of the Father who gives them!

To me, this is one of the striking differences in the gospel today – Jesus attempts to lead the rich man to a greater recognition and appreciation of God’s love for him but he is unwilling or unable to express gratitude for what he has received as gift and from whom he has received. What is the result? Grieving. Sadness. The rich man is unable to be open to the generous love of God for him and to fully be gracious and thankful for that love. He will receive no more than what he has because he is closed to anything more – closed to the invitation of Jesus, to a greater treasure.

It is no accident I think that as our society has become wealthier we have moved further from God’s love and the gratitude and thankfulness that would follow from an honest recognition of the profound generosity of God. It is almost as if people know implicitly that if I acknowledge God’s goodness and generosity, for all that I have and all that I am in my life, that I will realize there is a subsequent invitation to acknowledge through how I use these gifts and respect the intention and love of the giver. It might be easier to avoid this and be ungrateful – but it is also a source of misery for us. Gratitude is a source of great joy for us and yet it demands that we acknowledge, through our living, that we owe everything to God. The crazy thing is that we would rather stop the exchange, take what we have been given and run from the one who has given it – never to have to acknowledge their generosity but also never to receive fully from them again. How isolating and sad a reality is that? Especially when Jesus, like with the rich man, invites us to be open to receiving even more through God’s abounding love and generosity.

I return to the opening quote again. “The Saint is first stand foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having been loved or let God love.” This is the beautiful life: The one lived in trusting and generous relationship with the Father of all good gifts! This is the life of joy and intimacy whereby we can never to outdo God in His generosity!

“Better for you”

I was struck this week by the numerous comparisons of Jesus especially because He returns several times to telling His disciples what is “better for you”. It might surprise us to realize what Jesus actually teaches is better for them! 
He says for instance that it would be better to be maimed than to have two hands or two feet or two eyes one of which is causes us to stumble and fall in our faith; to be scandalized (literally a stumbling block)! Maybe even more incredible than this is the statement he makes about causing another believer, Jesus’ little ones who believe in Him, to stumble or to create an obstacle between them and God! He says, in this case, that it “would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” In plainer words: It would be better if you were dead! Remember the words of Jesus from last week: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me!” How we treat one another, especially believers, is how we treat God.
The implication to what Jesus is saying is testifying not only to the fact that love and service of God is tied intrinsically and totally tied to love of neighbor but also that there are eternal and serious implications if we put an obstacle between another person and Jesus! 
What kind of effort and care for our relationships with others and with God does Jesus teaching imply? What is the greatest priority then in each persons life? What should we be striving for? Jesus is indicating that we should, above all things, strive for right relationships with God and with others. Do not His words seem to suggest that friendship with Jesus and faith in Him is to be prized and sought above anything else – even above life and bodily health? I think so. Doesn’t this teaching radically change our picture and understanding of what it means to be healthy? Is the healthy person the one with the fit body? Is the healthy person the one with all the riches in the world? No, not according to the Lord. The measure of health comes from a persons relationship with God and others! Interestingly enough, when we speak of salvation and the importance of being saved the root hat word is the word ‘safe’ which actually means health! Salvation is the true health! Right and faithful relationship with God and God’s little ones is the measure of health! 
In light of this new understanding of health, of what is truly better for us, maybe we might also better understand the other readings we heard. Moses spoke, “Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets! And that the Lord would put His spirit on them!” Why? Because they would all be close to God and work in accord with His spirit to lead others to Him! Would that all God’s people were so very close to God and strived to bring God’s word to the hearts of others! So to, in St. James condemnation of the rich and their selfishness, it is principally because they have caused others – especially the poor and the little – to stumble and suffer. Their riches do not lead them to deeper communion with others, rather the opposite, their wealth is a scandal for others and a cause for rejecting the ‘little children’ of faith that Christ equates with Himself! Their riches destroy their health and become an obstacle for their own salvation and for others!

All of this underscores for me what the most important work is – every other work needs to be seen and understood as subordinated to it. That work is to grow in relationship with Jesus through faith and to spread that same faith in Jesus to others. To go to God and live faithfully in communion with Hm and to bring others, welcoming them in His name, to the same beautiful reality. This is the picture health! His communion might also be said to be the source of our full and lasting health since, close to God, we will draw life and continual grace from Him. So, even if it costs us a limb or two, “It is better for [us]!”

“Last of all and servant of all”

Looking to Christ as “the way, the truth and the life,” is always good for us to remember to do as Christians. We not only look at Him in His actions and life but to His heart as well – in order to get to know Him. One serious problem for Christians in our day is that they barely ever look at Christ in the scriptures or in prayer or in study. Instead of learning from the divine teacher we are learning from other sources – we end up following the same pattern of behaviour as the disciples in today’s scriptures – then, as St. James says, we experience disputes and discord in our daily lives.

The beauty of Christ though is revealed in our Gospel today as we see, rightfully  in His person, the steadfast and merciful love of God for His children. Jesus Never seems to tire of teaching His brothers and sisters. The funny thing, and this seems to happen so often, is that while Jesus is explaining Himself to them, explaining the way of the Lord God, they are, almost at the same time, manifesting contrary attitudes and behaviour. 

Jesus is teaching them that the Son of Man must undergo suffering and die and be raised… MUST! In other words it is the will of God that this should happen. Such a conviction on the part of Jesus, manifesting the love of God for humanity, demonstrates and exemplifies the selfless love of God – it is God’s humble service to His children – His little ones. Notice how He becomes even smaller than they. THe last of all.

The disciples don’t get it – and truth be told, neither do we most of the time! They are afraid to ask – almost like I don’t even want to know! Their lack of understanding is further demonstrated by what they begin to do next – they “argued with one another who was the greatest.” I get a sense that the disciples know that they shouldn’t be doing this – I think just as we know implicitly that we should not do the same – but still we do it, in our own little ways we do it. This is why they are silent when Jesus asks them “What were you arguing about on the way?” We should I think, at this time, hear an echo of the second reading in which St. James points out that human envy and selfishness is the source of conflict and discord and disputes – “You want something  and you do not have it; so you commmit murder.” This is a striking line – I am particularly reminded of Judas, one of the twelve here being taught by the Lord. 

I think what I need to drive home here is the fact that human selfishness, human sin, envy, and all the subsequent discord, division and malice that comes from it is not fulfilling. This should be self evident to us – how many of us enjoy discord, strife, and division in our relationships? None of us! Yet we rarely know how to live any differently – I point for example to the rising divorce rates in marriages. Amongst my aunts and uncles only three of ten couples are not divorced! Maybe a better question to think about is why is it unfulfilling? and what is the answer? What is it that Jesus is trying to teach us?

Jesus shows us the way to communion, intimacy, glory and life – and it comes through His life and love. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” All of this is only possible in and through relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Can you imagine what happens when people try to live this kind of selfless life without love? I can will that kind of service and part of my willing should also help me to love but to a certain extent if it is just an act of the will and is not accompanied by a change of heart then I will gradually become bitter and jaded and tired because i am not sustained. Jesus gives the key for this kind of love and transformation in service at the end when He makes the connection between love of the little one – one such child – and he love of Him and the one who send HIm. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Selfless love of neighbor begins and ends with loving intimacy and communion with God. Pope Benedict succinctly accounts for this by saying:

“Love of neighbor is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like o even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ.  His friend is my friend….If i have not contact with God whatsoever in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God.”

Imagine if Jesus way was followed? Imagine if people were tripping over each other trying to serve and care for each other? Hard to imagine isn’t it? It is so contrary to what we know and experience! But, with the Lord it is not impossible! This means that the principal striving in my life is to, as the scriptures, as Jesus say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength….and your neighbor as yourself!”