Beautiful Young Women

There was a priest of a certain parish who had a habit of stopping to talk to beautiful young women. He would approach them in the streets and strike up conversations with them. Sometimes he would even visit them in their homes. Some of the members of the parish began to be concerned by this behavior and worried that it was reflecting badly on them. Finally, they alerted the bishop who decided it was his duty to correct the priest. 

One afternoon the bishop paid a visit to the priest in his home. After some polite talk, the bishop finally addressed the issue he had come to discuss. 

“I don’t know how else to say this,” the bishop began, “but I’ve heard some troubling reports that you may have become lax in your vows.”

“I’m not sure to what you’re referring,” said the priest, somewhat taken aback.

“Well, I’ve heard reports that you’ve been consorting with beautiful young women, and it has given the appearance of impropriety. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stop this behavior for the good of yourself and the good of your parish. A man of the cloth must be beyond reproach.”

The priest bowed his head and said, “Of course I will respect your wishes, your Excellence, but if I may: I thought it far better to talk to beautiful young women while thinking of God than to talk to God while thinking of  beautiful young women.”

The Bible is clear that those of us who are leaders in the church are held to a higher standard. This is appropriate and just. But as this humorous parable reminds us, the perception isn’t always the reality. As God tells Samuel, “The LORD does not see what people see; they judge the outward appearance but He judges the heart.” Jesus was critical of religious leaders who focused on shining and polishing the outside of the cup while the inside was full of dirt and grime. He often risked the reputation of a drunk and a glutton to spend time with disreputable people who he wanted to show love and grace to. Disciples are called to follow this example. The heart we present to God is far more important than the appearance we present to the world. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Lettuce

A young monk was in the kitchen washing heads of lettuce for the next meal when one of the elders approached him and asked about morning services.

“Brother, did you pay attention to the homily, this morning?” the elder monk asked.

“Oh yes,” replied the young monk, “I found it to be very uplifting. It was just what I needed this morning. It really ministered to my soul.”

The elder monk could hear in the younger monk’s answer that he was being somewhat vague so he pressed him.

“Brother, do you recall what the homily was about?” 

Embarrassed, the younger monk replied, “I’m afraid I don’t remember what the homily was about but it really did minister to me.”

“How could the homily possibly have ministered to you,” asked the elder, “if you can’t even remember what it was about?”

“Well,” said the younger monk, “It’s like this lettuce. The water flows through it and cleanses it, but it does not remain in the leaves.”

I can remember only and handful of sermons from my childhood. I remember fewer Sunday School and Youth Group lessons. This does not mean that those lessons and sermons were useless. Quite the contrary. I am a youth pastor today because of all the time that my church invested in instructing me and developing my understanding of the faith. The individual lessons just flowed through me like water. I think it’s important for disciples to remember that our words and actions have a powerful impact on those around us. It’s also important to have humility and realize that we have little control over what individual words and actions will be remembered long after. We must trust that what we are doing matters even when it doesn’t appear to remain in the leaves.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

What is a Saint?

A father and his 5 year old daughter showed up early for mass one morning and spent some time quietly in the sanctuary. There were three beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel: one of St. Peter, one of St. Francis, and one of St. Andrew. The little girl was fascinated by the windows. “Who are these people?” She asked.

The father smiled and answered, “Those are the saints.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity to teach her about their faith he asked, “Do you know what a saint is?”

She looked up at one of the windows and saw the sunlight beaming through it, casting colorful shadows on the floor. “I think I do,” she answered, “a saint is someone the light shines through.”

So often we think of saints as being a super-class of spiritual individuals who have achieved levels of holiness we ordinary mortals could never hope to attain to. This parable reminds us that what makes one a saint is not who they are but whose they are. The test of a saint is how brightly the light of Christ shines through them. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” These instructions are for all disciples walking in the way of Jesus. We are all called to be people the light shines through!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Heaven and Hell

A monk was deep in his prayers when an angel appeared to him and offered to reveal to him any of the divine mysteries. The monk said to the Angel, “show me Heaven and Hell.”

Suddenly, the monk and the Angel were in a large banquet hall. There was a large table filled with every good food you could imagine. There was succulent turkey, fresh from the oven, hot bread and butter, any side you could want, and delicious cakes for dessert. All the guests looked pale and sickly. The monk noticed that they were chained to their chairs and that they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. Unable to leave their chairs or bend their elbows, the monk watched in horror as the guests at the banquet could not feed themselves any of this delicious food. They’d pick it up and drop it over and over and cry out in hunger, powerless to get any of the food to their mouths.

“This,” said the Angel, grimly, “is Hell.”

“I cannot bear to watch their suffering any longer,” said the monk, “please show me Heaven.”

Just as suddenly, the monk and the Angel were in a differen banquet hall. There was also a large table filled with every good food you could imagine and all the guests here too were chained to their chairs and they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. But these guests were not crying out in anguish. To the contrary, they were singing and laughing. They were not pale and sickly like the guests in the room before. These people were happy, healthy, and content. The monk watched closely and suddenly realized the difference between the two rooms. In this room, each guest was picking up food and feeding it to his neighbor.

I love this old parable and I can’t help but think about it every time I take communion. In the Gospels, Jesus set aside his right to exclude people from his table and was criticized for the company he kept. This parable reminds us that it is our humility and our service that makes Heaven out of Hell. In the early Church, our self sacrificing love was indeed our defining characteristic and one of the chief ways we patterned our lives after Christ. The same Christ whose outstretched arms are marvelously depicted in the words of the old hymn: “Come Ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore/ Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power…” Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to practice this same grace and hospitality.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Wolf of Gubbio

While St. Francis of Assisi was staying with his fellow brothers in a small town called Gubbio, a wolf began attacking animals outside of the town gate. The men of the city tried to put the wolf down but the more they attacked it, the more ferocious it became. Within weeks, the wolf had begun outright attacking humans. By the end of the month, the city was under siege. No one was allowed to leave town for fear the wolf would attack and kill them.

One evening, after his prayers, Francis went out to meet the wolf, against the townspeople’s wishes. When the wolf leapt at him, Francis made the sign of the cross and the wolf suddenly became docile. Francis spent a great deal of time preaching to the wolf, explaining to him the gospel and what it meant to be a Christian. Finally, he asked the wolf if he would like to be a Christian and the wolf put his paw in Francis’ hand.

Francis entered the city, as the wolf trotted peacefully behind. Then he announced to the crowd, “People of Gubbio, this wolf has received pardon for his sins from our Lord and now seeks our pardon as well. It is his hunger that drives him to attack you, so I beg of you to take care of him and love him as your brother in Christ.”

From that day forward, the wolf was a friend to all in Gubbio. He stood watch at the gate to protect his brothers who kept him happy and fed.

In this wonderful legend, Francis sees the good in a creature most see to be an unlovable beast and actively works to bring about peace through redemption. Sometimes violence is the simplest answer to a problem but the simplest answer is not always the best answer. It is not always possible to bring about peace but Christ does teach that peace should be our first inclination and he does promise that those who make peace will be blessed in the Kingdom of God. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to look for the good in those the world despises and to be agents of healing. Sometimes that means going where others fear to go and looking the monster in the eyes.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

3 Stone Cutters

A pilgrim traveling through medieval France happened on a work site where some stonecutters were busy working. Curious, the traveller stopped to ask the stonecutters about the work they were doing. The first stonecutter he approached was muttering under his breath.

“What are you doing?”, the pilgrim asked.

“What do you want to know about it?”, the stonecutter replied, barely looking up. “I do nothing but break my back all day, slaving over these stones with cheap instruments. I put them where they tell me and I go home when they tell me. I do it without any thanks and for very little pay. ”

The pilgrim quietly backed away, so as not to offend the fellow any further. He saw another stonecutter whistling as he worked.

“What are you doing?”, the pilgrim asked the second stonecutter who looked up and smiled. 

“Just working to make a living. I cut these stones all day to support my beautiful wife and family back in the village. It’s not exciting work but it’s honest and it puts food on the table. I know many able bodied men who struggle to find work and this job pays regularly so I feel pretty blessed.”

The pilgrim was about to leave when he saw a third stonecutter. This one was working quietly and intensely. His hands were quick and precise.  

“What are you doing?”, asked the pilgrim.

The third stonecutter was so engrossed in his task that he didn’t even hear the pilgrim.

“What are you doing?”, the pilgrim asked, louder this time.

The third stonecutter looked up to the heaven and whispered, “I’m building a cathedral.”

“There are two types of people,” the trite saying goes, “those that see the glass as half empty, and those that see the glass as half full.” This thought provoking parable, however, introduces a third way of seeing the world: one that is less about how the world impacts us and more about how we impact the world. It is about having a vision that is larger than our selves. Having vision is looking beyond the day to day and seeing the purpose and meaning in what we do. It’s more than merely working toward a goal. As disciples, we are charged with no less than building God’s Kingdom on earth. A monumental task, to be sure, but also a captivating vision that gives purpose to our work beyond how it affects us. When we see our lives as working toward the goal of the Kingdom then it matters not if our glass is half  empty or half full, all that matters is that we seek first the kingdom of God. The good news is that knowing we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we are making the world a better place stone by stone, is truly a cup which runneth over.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Question…

There was once a monk who was famous for speaking only in questions. Anytime someone would come to him needing advice, he would pray deeply then give them a question to meditate on. One particular day, a Priest came to him and said, “I am here on retreat and I was wondering if you could give me a question to meditate on while I am here.”

The monk prayed very deeply for a moment then whispered, “What do they need?”

The priest though about this for a second and said, “that is indeed a very good question to ponder but I was hoping for a question having less to do with my vocation as a priest and more to do with my own personal spiritual quest for truth…”

The monk prayed very deeply for a moment then whispered, “What do they really need?”

What do they really need? As a person in ministry, this parable really resonates with me. Sometimes there is a difference between the lesson or message we long to give and what the people need to hear. All of us, as disciples, are called to minister to the needs of others. We cannot easily separate our interior life from our exterior acts of service. They are deeply intertwined. We certainly need to find times to retreat from the world and recharge and reconnect with God. Sabbath is commanded of us. However, that time is spent so that we can come back ready to meet the needs of others. When Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” After Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!” Jesus replied, “feed my sheep.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…