Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ropes and Persistence

Me on the High Rope Challenge
Readings for Sunday, July 28/ 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 133:1-3, 6-8
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

For the past few days I have been with eight families from our parish on a trip to north Georgia. In the span of just a couple of days we went whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River, went to an Atlanta Braves baseball game and did a ropes challenge course at the state park where we were staying. Everyone loved the trip because it was time spent together as families doing some exciting activities. The one that in my opinion was most fruitful was the ropes challenge course. It began by splitting us into two groups of eleven. The group I was in took a little walk and arrived at the first challenge: a fifteen foot ladder set up on a tree which led to fifteen feet of large staples in the tree, at the top of which was a pole – like utility pole – connecting that tree to another tree about twenty feet away. I have to be honest when I was in the middle of the pole my legs were shaking so bad the whole pole was shaking with me. I passed, but barely. We had other challenges – lining up on a log and getting in birthday order without speaking or falling off the log, having our whole team walk a cable connected to several trees without falling off, and using a rope swing to move our team and a bucket of water from one bucket to another as a team. The most important, to me, was the spider web. It was a section about seven feet tall and twelve feet wide with ropes all interconnected. The guide then said that we had to get our whole team from one side to the other without touching the ropes and we could use each of the holes in the ‘web’ only once. This required us to pick people up over our heads to be able to complete the course. The challenges were a lot of fun but what impressed me most as that at the end of each one we were asked ‘what did you learn?’ As a group we learned many things – reliance upon one another, recognition of our gifts and not being concerned about being the weak link, following directions, flexibility in planning, communication, being accountable for our own faults, and persistence.

As I reflected on those things they seemed to me not only great attributes in team building but attributes of what we are called to be and recognize in the Church community. We all have to rely upon one another to be able to accomplish anything. When we strove to be individuals we failed in our goals, but when we each exercised our own gifts we were able to accomplish the tasks before us. Sometimes we were the strong link, other times not so much. And it didn’t matter whether we were short or tall, younger or older, male or female. All were able to put their gift to work in some aspect for the good of the whole group. We communicated with one another and built our trust. We had to listen to our guide and follow directions. But the most important things were the accountability. When we were passing through the web and passing others through it, the guide would ask after they went through whether we had touched the rope or not. She wasn’t going to hold us accountable, it had to be us. We had to own up to things. And when we did that, the joy was that much greater. But most important above all was our persistence. If we had just given up on a particular goal then we wouldn’t have learned the other things along the way. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow as individuals and as a group and to rejoice together in the victories that we had attained. And that is what Our Lord Jesus challenges us to today – persistence.

In the Gospel passage we hear Luke’s translation of the Our Father given to the disciples and the call afterward to persist in prayer to the Father. He challenges us to be almost  annoying in our persistence, – if the friend doesn’t give us bread because of friendship he will surely give it from our persistence. Ask, seek, knock. We must be persistent. Not because God doesn’t want to bless us. Indeed He does! After all, Jesus also speaks of the reality of the Father in Heaven wanting to give good things to His children, and even the best thing in the Holy Spirit. God wants to bless us, but He also knows that if we instantly got everything we wanted when we prayed for it that we would quickly become spoiled and that we wouldn’t really have a relationship with a Father so much as a connection with a gift-giver. The persistence that we are called to exhibit in our prayer is not for Him but for us. We need it to strengthen us, to help us value the gifts that we receive and to draw us into relationship with the Father wherein He can bless us even in the ways which we cannot yet conceive.

What’s more is that this persistence is not just in our prayer but in the whole of our lives. The Christian life is not easy. If we think being a Christian is easy, then we’ve failed to truly live the Christian faith. The call to holiness which all of us have received requires us to endure trials, to detach ourselves from the things of this world, and to strive for virtuous living. These are not easy things and yet we are called to them. St. Peter reminds us though that these activities are not in vain but recalls that for those who endure, who persist in this path, we will be saved. We will claim the victory and glory in the gift of eternal life with all of the angels and saints. But we must persist. We must be intentional or all will be lost, including our souls and that would be a great loss indeed.

I want to conclude this homily by quoting a bit from our Holy Father who is currently with over three million youth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the World Youth Day celebrations. Think about that for a second – three million youth, three million whose faith is being kindled anew to take back to their homes and share with others. I beg you to pray for them and for all youth throughout the world that they may truly be able to come alive in the faith of Jesus Christ and share it with all whom they meet. So, I share these words spoken to them and to all the world. They have encouraged me in my own persistence in my vocation and my faith, and I pray that they might be of some encouragement to you as well.

Just 3.2 Million people at World Youth Day... no big deal...
These are the words of Pope Francis and to each of us he says this: "Today, I would like each of us to ask sincerely: in whom do we place our trust? In ourselves, in material things, or in Jesus? We are all tempted to put ourselves at the centre, to think that we alone build our lives or that our life can only be happy if built on possessions, money, or power. But it is not so. Certainly, possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy, but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied. “Put on Christ” in your life, place your trust in him and you will never be disappointed!"

And in another place: "Dear friends, I wish to say to each of you, but especially to all those others who have not had the courage to embark on our journey: You have to want to stand up; this is the indispensible condition! You will find an outstretched hand ready to help you, but no one is able to stand up in your place. But you are never alone! The Church and so many people are close to you. Look ahead with confidence."

And again: "To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change. Be the first to seek to bring good, do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it. The Church is with you, bringing you the precious good of faith, bringing Jesus Christ, who “came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.”

And lastly: "Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen."