Admonishing the Sinner

This reflection is offered as part of a series on the Year of Mercy hosted by my friend and writing colleague, Becky Eldredge.  I have to admit, this was a tough one!  I would love to spend more time teasing out the image of “the sting of soapy water and a rough wash cloth” as an analogy for Admonishing the Sinner.  For now, this short blog entry will suffice.  My gratitude to Becky, my childhood friend (Tina), spiritual guides (Al G., Fr. Jason and others) – and my mom! for their inspiration. 

dirty hands

Growing up on a farm, my best friend and I had a well-worn path on the gravel road between her house and mine. A long hill separated the mailboxes that marked our driveways. More than a few times, I remember toppling down the hill on my bicycle in a hurry to get to her house.  Holding back tears, I would wipe away the dirt and keep on going. It was only when I arrived back home a few hours later that my mom would take one look at my skinned knees, and in her most loving yet insistent “mom voice” would beckon me over to the kitchen sink.  “Get over here right now and let me wash you off! Don’t you know that you’re asking for an infection!”

Oh, how I resisted water and wash cloth rubbed against raw skin! The sting of soapy water was even more painful than the original fall.  I would cry and cringe and pull away – all the while, my mom insisting, “This will only hurt a little bit! We have to get the dirt out.” Moms are usually right about these things. It stung like crazy, but within a few minutes she would be blowing cool air onto moist clean skin and sending me off with a stack of band-aids.

The Truth of Soapy Water and a Washcloth

I don’t exactly remember how my spiritual director and I got into this difficult conversation.  All I know is that it ended poorly – or better yet, messy – which is, in God’s eyes, another way of saying sacred and profound.

I’m sure that I was re-hashing the details of a stressful week.  At one point, he asked me if I had brought my concerns to God in prayer, and I quickly dismissed his question as unimportant – or, at least, less important than my busy week at work.

Call it what you will – pride, ego, sin. I had once again found my way onto the slippery slope of self-importance, and my spiritual director did not hesitate to point this out to me. As I listened to him echo back to me the various ways I was resisting God’s presence, I could feel the sting of shame wash over me.  We sat in silence for a long time, as I held back tears, confusion swirling in my mind. How did I get here, again?  In my propensity to do everything (and do it all perfectly), I often forget that “God is God, and I’m not.”

I can always count on my spiritual director to be kind. But his words stung and the truth hurt – like soapy water and a rough wash cloth.

Continued here…. 



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Feast of Mary Magdalene

July 22, 2016 –

I was invited to give a reflection at our evening prayer celebration on the Feast of Mary Magdalene at St. Benedict Parish in Chicago.  Here are my reflections on this great witness to the Resurrection!

Last Sunday at the 12 Noon mass, we celebrated a baptism – baby Raymond Edward!  I was reminded as the priest placed a white garment over this child, and anointed him with oil – that each of us -ALL THE BAPTIZED- are initiated into the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of Christ.  Priest, prophet, and king!  This is our call as people of faith – to be priestly people of prayer and sacrament, to be prophets seeking justice and righteousness, and to be a king but one like Jesus, a humble servant, one who seeks peace, leading by example and laying down one’s life.

It is good to be reminded of our baptism, especially on a night when we celebrate the feast of one of the great disciples, the Apostle to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene.

No one expected Resurrection.

Everyone was surely frightened, scared, uncertain.  I imagine the disciples hovering in the upper room with the doors locked, fearful of who would be attacked next.  We hear about two friends on the Road to Emmaus – running away.  Have you not heard what happened in our city?

And where were the women?  We know that the women stayed.  And I’m sure the women did what women do – someone made a casserole, and someone else baked bread, and one may have even offered to watch the children while the rest went to bring flowers to the tomb – along with spices to anoint the Body, as was their custom.

It is there that Mary encounters Jesus as we heard in the Gospel tonight.

Jesus recognizes her.  He calls her by name – MARY.  He knows her; and once again she is reminded that she is known by him and called by name to be his follower.

It’s funny, isn’t it- how often historians have gotten this WRONG.  There are at least three women in scripture who writers have misrepresented as Mary Magdalene. The repentant sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears was NOT Mary Magdalene. No where in scripture is Mary Magdalene named as a prostitute.  And Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, friends of Jesus – has also been confused or conflated over time with Mary Magdalene.

There is one person, however, who had no doubt what so ever, about the identity of Mary Magdalene.  And that was Mary Magdalene herself.

What makes Mary Magdalene a disciple worthy of her own feast day is this sense of identity.  She knew who she was as a disciple of Jesus!  There are 3 things that we hear in tonight’s gospel that bear reflection and draw us deeper into our own sense of discipleship with Mary Magdalene as our role model – her encounter with Jesus, her courage to stay with him at the cross, and her witness to the resurrection.

An Encounter with Jesus

Mary Magdalene had a personal encounter.  What we hear tonight is Jesus calling her by name, “Mary!”  Surely this is not the first time she hear her name spoken aloud. Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary’s other experience with Jesus was when 7 demons were expelled from her.  Jesus heals her – he touches her in that very place where she is most weak, vulnerable, uncertain, the places that have caused her to sin.  He knows her, intimately, and she has allowed him into the dark spaces – and he has drawn her into the light.

In the opening lines of his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict says that as Christian disciples, followers of Jesus, “We have come to believe in God’s love: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

This happened to Mary, and it happens in our lives, too.  An encounter with Jesus, especially one that brings healing, also leads to courage.  The courage to face trials, to speak out on behalf of the poor, to seek God and praise God without ceasing in all that we do.  Identity is essential to being a disciple!  We have to know WHO we are, and we need to constantly be reminded of WHOSE we are.  We belong to God, hidden with Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The Courage to Stand at the Cross

All four gospel writers place Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified.  And all four gospels, although differing in detail, place Mary at the tomb – as the first witness to the Risen Jesus.

The first thing Jesus says to Mary, when he appears to her in the gospel, is “Why are you weeping?”  While I suspect the Risen One intended this to bring comfort, any one of us who has mourned a loved one would know that comfort does not come quickly.

Each person’s path of discipleship is different, but I can guarantee you one thing – two things, really.  I promise you that God is always faithful!  But I can also guarantee that as a disciple there will be struggle, suffering, and opposition – almost always.

Our lives are fashioned to model Jesus’ life, death, resurrection – the Pascal Mystery.

We are never far from the cross.  This too is a necessary, but difficult, hallmark of life as a disciple of Jesus. And we know that Mary stood with Jesus, and watched him suffer and die a humiliating death.

If we take one thing from Mary Magdalene, it is her courage to stay with Jesus.  We are never far from the cross.  And we have to ask ourselves, do I dare to stand there?

What would it mean to stand at the foot of the cross with our African American neighbors, friends, and colleagues – as we face an ever widening gap in the racial divide in our country? Can I listen and accept the truth of their experience?  Am I willing to speak up when I hear racist rhetoric that permeates our public discourse?

How close are we willing to get to the foot of the cross to meet our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning community members?  Including and ESPECIALLY those in our community at St. Ben’s?  Do I accept them with respect, compassion, and sensitive?

Do we truly know and understand the cross that is carried over thousands of miles by Refugees who are fleeing places like Syria, Iraq – seeking safety for themselves and their children?  What would it take to learn about the cross they carry?  How can I alleviate their burden?

There is a cross that hangs tonight over Baton Rouge, and Dallas, and Minneapolis, and Nice, and Istanbul.  There are 49 crosses in Orlando, 9 more in Charleston SC, 26 in Newtown CT.  Across the city of Chicago, there are 362 men, women, and children who have lost their lives to gun violence – this year ALONE.  These individuals did not choose their crosses, but we can choose to stand with them.

Mary Magdalene could have easily said “He’s not MY son.”  She could have turned to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and offered a sympathetic look, then ran away with all the rest. There are no easy answers to the crosses of our world, except to love.  Mary Magdalene stayed.  To be a disciple of Jesus, with is to stay at the foot of the cross.  And to trust that the poor and suffering will show us the way forward.

Witness to the Resurrection

The most compelling line in this Resurrection narrative is when Mary Magdalene runs back to the disciples and shouts, “I have seen the Lord!”  It is a line that any disciple must worthily shout and recognize!

Indeed, I have seen the Lord!

I am humbled each year to celebrate an interfaith Iftar, a breaking of the fast, during the Islamic holy month of Ramandaan.  I attend at the invitation of one of my former work colleagues, and she always retells the story of what happened at our office on September 11, 2001.  She recalls the countless number of colleagues who called, emailed, or stopped by to ensure that she would get home safe that day – and in the days to follow.  I am encouraged in my own journey of faith because of our friendship and the witness of her fidelity to prayer and fasting as a Muslim woman.

I have seen the Lord!

My colleague Emily, serves in a countries throughout Africa and the Middle East, coordinating peace-building efforts in countries experiencing civil war.  We asked her recently, “What gives you hope?” Especially in the face of such violence and destruction.  She told us stories of individuals finding healing, families seeking restoration, and enemies reconciling. She said that for any goodness to be found in the face of injustice, that has to be GOD.  There is no other explanation, except that the Holy Spirit must be involved, and this is what gives her hope.

I have seen the Lord!

A few months ago, a group of us from St. Ben’s, attended an art show at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.  Located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, Precious Blood serves predominantly young, black men recently released from jail. They offer a positive alternative for kids in the neighborhood. They offer job training, community gardens, the arts program, peace circles, places of dialogue and reconciliation, and they are strong advocates for criminal justice reform especially for children who were convicted of crimes and then tried as adults.  Life is not easy, and the situation is complicated.  There are no easy answers.  But it begins by sharing stories and offering mutual respect. As I’ve gotten to know the staff and kids there, they all use the same word to describe the Precious Blood Center –this is a place of HOPE!

I have seen the Lord!

Pope Francis, in “The Joy of the Gospel” tell us, that Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.  Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.  (Joy of the Gospel)

We celebrate Mary Magdalene for her faithfulness, her strong sense of identity and friendship with Jesus.  We remember her courage in staying with Jesus at the foot of the cross.  And we celebrate her as the first eye witness to the Resurrection.  Knowing that we are called and sent to do the same!

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Clothe the Naked -Part II


clothes lineWe had such a great response to the post For I Was Naked and You Clothed Me from a few weeks ago.  It raised some important questions, so we decided to continue with a second reflection this week. Thanks as always to my dear friend Becky Eldredge for sharing space on her blog!


Welcomed or unexpected, mercy invites us into relationship with one another. Even the best of relationships are complex, filled with ups and downs, and take a lot of effort. When we enter into relationship with those in need of mercy, we can almost guarantee that it will be difficult before it ever reaches the point of being sacred or profound.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about clothing the naked, and it raised all sorts of questions! When we encounter someone who is hungry, thirsty, or homeless, there is a temptation to react impulsively. We feel compelled to do something! But if mercy is about being drawn into relationship, is it enough for me to anonymously donate my used stuff to a shelter or second-hand store? Who am I helping, and does my assistance lead to a sustainable solution?

Around the same time as that blog post, a friend forwarded an article about the unforeseen consequences of people’s generosity that takes place in the wake a national tragedy. The town of Newtown, CT (population 27,000) received over 65,000 teddy bears following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school – do the math, that’s three stuffed animals for each resident. It then became someone’s full time job to sort, distribute, and decide what to do with all of the donations.

I certainly do not want to derail people’s generosity and genuine desire to help. But our efforts toward mercy also raise some important questions:

  • How much thought do we put into the items we donate to charity?
  • Am I considering the best interests of the receiver?
  • How would a church or a lay person know what a person or organization actually needs?
  • Is my desire to be generous inadvertently creating an additional burden?

Continue Reading….here 

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Visiting the Sick


I don’t do hospitals.

I was sufficiently traumatized by two separate trips to the emergency room as a child. The thought of sitting in a waiting room is enough to make me queasy!  It’s no surprise that I rejected the idea of hospital chaplaincy during Divinity school. Looking back, I’m envious of my classmates who recall their chaplaincy experiences as challenging and rewarding experiences, filled with profound reflections on life, death, suffering, and resilience.

If you’re anything like me, I wonder how to best practice this important work of mercy, knowing that I don’t have a genuine call to minister to the sick. Healing comes in many forms – through our presence, prayers, simple gifts, a home-cooked meal, or an encouraging word. Often, what the ill need most is to be seen and to know they are not forgotten.

Continue reading the full post on Becky Eldredge’s blog…. 

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For I was Naked and You Clothed Me

Naked And You Clothed Me

This post appears on Becky Eldredge’s website as part of her ongoing series during the Year of Mercy.  I am grateful as always to offer my thoughts, and was particularly challenged by this piece on clothing the naked!

When I agreed to write this reflection, I expected to remind readers about the importance of spring cleaning and dutifully taking our gently used items to the local second-hand store. I did not anticipate that I would unearth questions of vulnerability, the dignity of the human body, and the (perceived) value we place on material goods.

When we are called to clothe the naked, we are bidden to watch over those who are unduly exposed to the physical elements, those who are subject to unjust working conditions, and the personal choices we make in regards to our own physical comfort.

Clothing the naked invites us to consider those who are without appropriate outerwear, but the heart of this work of mercy – nakedness – is tied to vulnerability. Above all else, we are called to clothe the poor with dignity.

Continue Reading…. 

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Mercy Revealed on the Cross

Cross4I am grateful to my friend and fellow blogger, Becky Eldredge, during this Holy Week for the chance to share a reflection about the “Good Friday” moments of life, and how we find God’s mercy revealed on the cross.

“Remain here and stay awake.” 
(Matthew 26:38)

I stood at Joe’s grave and wept. I never expected to grieve as much as I did.

Joe saw the cross coming. Cancer does that to you.  He fought, he prayed, he laughed, and he never stopped loving people. Ultimately, he put his life in God’s hands, while never giving up on the talent of his doctors.

On a cold January day, I stood at his grave with tears frozen to my face. I wept because he was gone, and I wept tears of deep gratitude for everything he taught me.

Continue reading….

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Jesus the Healer

YoMB - Week 7 - Jesus the Healer

A year ago, I had the great privilege of working on a retreat project for the upcoming World Youth Day in Poland. The best part of the project was the chance to collaborate with two amazing writers and colleagues – Mike Hayes and Becky Eldredge.  Together, we explored various aspects of the theme “Blessed Are the Merciful”, inspired by the writings and witness of Pope Francis. During this Year of Mercy, Becky has dedicated her blog to continuing this theme, alongside the hashtag #MercyMatters.  I am grateful for Becky’s invitation to submit an occasional guest post. This week, I offer a reflection on mercy through the eyes of Jesus the Healer.

Mercy Matters: Jesus the Healer

Do not underestimate the extent to which you’ve been hurt.

We live in a broken world. We all carry a certain amount of physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds. Other people unwittingly project their brokenness onto us. We in turn, often unknowingly, although sometimes intentionally, take out our pain on others.

How often do we brush off people’s offers of assistance and diminish our need for help. “It’s not that bad. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”

Continue reading …. 

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