Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fear and God Don't Occupy the Same Space

Benny is one of our neighbors who lives just up the block from us here in Harlem.  From time to time we see him on the street, often carrying a cup of store-bought coffee.  He often has an insight or reflection to share, which he does in his own lyrical Harlem-way. He speaks like he’s singing-rythmic and poetic. His thoughts are random-sometimes bizarre, sometimes angry, sometimes spiritual, always real.  Last Thursday he stopped in to our friary where we serve lunch for our neighbors.  As the meal was coming to a close and the brothers were washing the dishes, Benny was just speaking.  “ Fear and God don’t occupy the same space” he said, real matter of fact.  Eyes were raised from the sinks as we looked up at one another.  Christ had spoken.  Having lived with the poor for over 15 years, I have heard His voice many times through simple conversation such as this.  This was one of those moments.  A word from God.  A word for me, and I believe, a word for you.

“Fear and God don’t occupy the same space.”  For those of you who are discerning, this is Benny’s word for you through me.  So often fear threatens men who are discerning, drowning out the quiet voice of the Lord with insistent shouts, “What if…?”,  “I’m not…”, “I can’t…”, “What about…?”.  Such over-questioning leads to a “paralysis of analysis”.  Fear-based questions overwhelm and make it difficult to move forward.  Of course, we must be real with ourselves and with our deepest questions and fears, particularly bringing them to prayer and to a wise spiritual director, but at a certain point we need to move forward, trusting that the step that is being asked of me is all I need to concentrate on for now. 

When Jesus walked past Peter and Andrew as they were fishing, he simply said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:16-18).  He didn’t lay out a 10 year plan or the benefits of being associated with Him, nor the cost!  He simply said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Were they afraid?  Confused?  Unsure?  Probably.  But they followed Him because somehow they trusted more in Him than in their own fears and questions.  You see, Benny is a Harlem prophet-“Fear and God don’t occupy the same space.”  So if your fears are stopping you from doing what the Lord wants, ask for the grace to move through them and then take a step.  “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust” (Mk 5:36).   Following Jesus is all about taking steps.  He leads.  We follow. 

Fr Emmanuel Mary CFR

Vocation Director                 

Take a Risk!

Sometimes the Lord invites us to take a risk.  Every Easter the brothers in England and Ireland get together for our annual retreat and some fraternal time.  This year it was in the Lake District in Lancashire.  It is an absolutely beautiful place with numerous trails along lakes and over craggy peaks.  On the last day of our time there the weather began to shift.  The clouds hung over the house foretelling rain.  But there was still one more ridge to climb.  My body had barely recovered from a previous days’ hike and my persistent head cold showed no sign of relenting.  But there was still one more ridge to climb.  In the spirit of fraternity and with a vague sense that this beautiful landscape would not disappoint, I got in the van.   
            We set off just before 1pm.  Our route led up a winding narrow path through the mountains to a car park that seconded as a sheep pen.  With a quick look at our map we began the ascent.  The thought of a restful day in bed quickly lost its allure.  Edifying conversation, epic landscape, and with a trail that seemed to pull us onward, the ominous clouds lost their teeth and the head cold seemed to give up on its grip.  Usually on a long hike it’s the summit that makes it all worth it.  This time the whole thing was worth it.  I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.  It was like a summary of our whole Easter Retreat and time together: “Do not let your own limitations and the temptations of the world limit your vision.  Be willing to take the risk of moving by faith.  See by faith and be moved by the promise of seeing a beautiful landscape rolled out before you.”  I could have let my physical limitations and the signs of gloomy weather keep me at home that day, but to what end?  In comparison to what I unexpectedly received for having stepped-out on a hunch, staying home would have been an extremely short-sighted and dull choice.  Resting at home in the comfort of my room appeared in comparison to be an absolutely ridiculous option. 
            Brothers, the Lord is inviting us in our discernment to take a risk.  Do not let the things of the world limit your vision to this life alone.  The Lord wants you to see more.  He wants you to decide according to deeper criteria.  Our human limitations and the challenge of living in a world that sees only bad weather overhead are not meant to have the last word.  Jesus’ Resurrection has opened up a new horizon for each of us to behold.  He has freed us from the tyranny of our human frailty.  I assure you brothers the risk of following the Lord and walking by faith and not merely by sight is a risk worth taking; the pay off is in the whole of the journey.

            Happy Easter brothers! 

You’re in my daily prayers,

Fr.Gabriel Joseph, CFR

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Love the Lord and His Holy Will

Happy Easter Brothers!

The brothers in Bradford were recently giving a parish mission in a nearby parish in the diocese.  On Wednesday night we were introduced to the oldest parishioner in the parish.  She was 101 and her name was Molly.  I thought her name was perfect.  When I hear the name “Molly” I think of a bright-eyed red-haired young girl riding around on her bike or skipping and laughing all the way.  Molly was 101.  I know….no skipping or riding her bike around her neighbour’s driveway but I have to tell you she was young!  “I still do everything for myself,” she said.  “Oh, yes.  I feel the same as I did when I was 50!”  “What’s your secret?” asked Sr. Elizabeth and Fr. Gabriel standing by.  Presuming to hear something about low fat yoghurt or kale and apple smoothies she offered a response as quickly as we had asked the question.  “I love my God and his holy Will.”  The bright smile and even brighter look she floored us both.  “I’m not sure what that means, but you are holy and still here with us for a purpose; wow…,” I thought to myself.  Molly continued to shuffle around the vestibule of the Church offering many “thank yous” and “goodbyes” while the rest of us absorbed what she had just said.  

She found life in the Lord brothers.  For her living a long and happy life was to “love her God and to do His holy will.”  Sometimes knowing the will of God can be a frightening affair.  Sometimes we want to run.  I’m grateful for people like Molly who can remind me that God’s will gives life and therefore, joy.  May this Easter be for all of you brothers a time to take a step forward in your discernment.  A step forward in trust that whatever the Lord wants, I will be willing because I know that being with Him wherever He leads me is life and joy.  

I have a feeling when Molly dances into the halls of heaven there will be a train of people leaning forward to follow her steps as they stumble along behind her.  May we be found among them smiling and delighted with having “loved the Lord and his holy will.”  

Happy Easter brothers,

Fr. Gabriel Joseph, CFR