My home parish in Central New York State is Our Lady of Lourdes. As a child, I attended the parochial elementary school of the same name and became an altar server. As a teenager, I worked there as the paid weekend sacristan and began the early discernment of a possible vocation to religious life and sacramental ministry. As an adult, I think of one of my earliest memories I have associated with this parish and the fear I had as a youngster after hearing the story of what happened to St. Bernadette Soubirous in February 1858. As the story goes, Bernadette was gathering firewood near a grotto with her sister, Marie, when she witnessed what would later be determined was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I recall as a kid hearing that Mary signaled to Bernadette that she should begin praying the Rosary. Like the devout young woman that she was, Bernadette reached into her dress pocket and took out the beads for prayer.
For me, it's books. I just cannot get enough. Not only are there new ones that I always want to read, but I want to acquire my own copies. And I never let them go. You never know when you are going to want to reread or consult them again. And so I need more and more bookshelves. But, where is the boundary between legitimate need for books (or whatever we are tempted to accumulate) for ministry and pleasure, and greedy acquisition?
The Lord's Prayer is much more than just a prayer that we say; it is also meant to be a prayer that we live. Cyprian of Carthage, a third century bishop and martyr wrote, "My dear friends, the Lord's Prayer contains many great mysteries of our faith. In these few words there is great spiritual strength, for this summary of divine teaching contains all of our prayers and petitions." In the twentieth century, Pope Benedict XVI observed, "The meaning of the Our Father goes much further than the mere provision of a prayer text. It aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus." When we pray the Lord's Prayer we enter into the world of Jesus and into the depths of his relationships with God and with others. We begin to view life, God, others and ourselves through his eyes. Praying these words with attention entails a training in vision.
Our readings this week seem to offer a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand the first reading from Genesis seems to say that entertaining guests is a good thing, a spiritual practice. As the Letter to the Hebrews comments referring to this passage: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (13:2). As the famous line from St. Benedict's rule reads: "venit hospes, venit Christus" -- "when a guest comes, Christ comes."
The words of Pope Francis, addressed to Europe, in accepting the Charlemagne Prize, ring true of America as well: "What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom? ..... What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld and even sacrificed their lives for the dignity of their brothers and sisters?" In the Pope's mind, another Europe is emerging; and it seems that another America is emerging as well.
In accompanying groups visiting Israel, one of the sites we visit is the Church of Dominus Flevit, that is, "The Lord Wept" on the Mount of Olives. It's a lovely place, looking out on the Golden Gate of the Old City. The Gospel that is recalled there is this: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not."
On my tenth birthday my father gave me a plaque with a poem on it by Robert Frost, called "The Road Not Taken." You may have heard this poem before; it starts, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." The poet tells of coming across two paths while walking and having to decide which one to take. (It's a poem; the paths are clearly a metaphor.) It's a tough choice: both paths look exactly the same from where the poet is standing, both are equally worn ("the passing their / Had worn them really about the same"), and it is impossible to see where either path leads. At the time, the speaker can discern no reason to choose one path over the other. There are no guides or signposts, no indication that one path is preferable to the other. But the poet does have to choose one of them, which means not choosing the other one. The poems ends famously, "I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence: / Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference."