What Tugs At Your Soul?

In his reflection on FamVin “Sent Out” (Isaiah 61:1-2) Father Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission helps us reflect on what tugs at our souls.

There was a documentary on TV about the Renaissance, that period of awakening in the history of Europe when a fresh energy flooded into the culture and triggered off a whole new view of the world. The reason for it, as the show presented, was a discovery of certain writings, wisdoms and ideas from the past that had been there all along but had lain hidden and buried. What got civilization moving again was the re-emergence of this underground current which registered in people as a kind of summons, a pull into the future. It was as if from this hidden spring they had heard a call and began to follow, as if being sent down a new road.

I pick up on this notion of being sent, this occurrence whereby something inside grabs hold and pulls a person in a new direction – because it’s just the kind of thing that happened to the prophet Isaiah. One day he wakes up and senses some tug on his soul. He recognizes it as The Spirit of God. He experiences it not just as warm feeling, but as a push, a prod, an energy sending him out. And in his memorable words he senses “being sent to bring good news to the poor and lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”It’s that same pattern, something sleeping inside waking up, grabbing hold, and propelling a person down some new road – in Isaiah’s case, the road of liberation of the oppressed. This scene is a visual of Isaiah responding to a call, a vocation.

In the gospels the apostles get caught up in this same kind of momentum. They have been walking with Jesus, listening to his words, seeing all the healing things he’s been doing, and taking in his very person. At a certain juncture, all this shifts and gets transformed into what you could call a sending-energy, being sent out to start doing as their Lord has been doing. This energy, half-awake inside them, comes out its slumber and begins to move them along.

The story of St. Vincent de Paul whose feast we celebrate this week follows much the same plot line. He’s someone on a path, being productive enough, but not yet alive to the life forces running deeper within him. A few circumstances come together, centered around his work out in the country with the rural poor.  Then over some months that inner something begins to rise up and propel him forward. In fact it’s the very words of Isaiah, now quoted by Luke, that provide the catalyst. Putting language onto Vincent’s inner experience, they wake up this energy that has been sleeping inside, catch hold, and move him out. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and is sending me to bring the good news to the poor and neglected.” It becomes his life’s motto, his statement of purpose.

Seeing this pattern at work is an occasion for each of us to look for its operation in our own lives. Can you think back to a time when the pull of some greater purpose started to register in you? Can you recall a before and after – when you were moving along at an accustomed pace, but then something caught you up and took you in a new and more generous, gospel-centered direction?

I think of a middle-aged woman looking for something to do with her time who went to a Vincent de Paul Society meeting. Not really knowing what she was getting into, she started to make those home visits to people who needed help. Stepping into this world which was foreign to her, something inside began to stir. In our beginning imagery, she felt herself being “Sent,” sent out to bring goodness. Or as Jesus would say, to deliver the good news that our God is the God of compassionate and abundant love and that this flows through the loving actions of God’s people.

Every believer’s story is different but in some form touches back on this inner pattern. Something slumbering inside wakes up and sends us out. Something underneath comes to the surface and moves us forward. Something calls.

It’s Vincent de Paul’s experience and that of all the people who would listen for and respond to that inner voice — God’s Spirit sending us out with word and deed to spread God’s healing news of love and compassion.

Our Responses To “Who Am I?”

Remember! Remember the different answers you have given over your lifetime to the question Who am I?

  • I am the son or daughter of….
  • I am a graduate of…
  • I am married to…
  • I am a Vincentian…
  • I am a Republican or a Democrat…
  • etc.

“All of these are personalized responses to the question Jesus puts us to us about who he is. With Peter we answer, “The Christ,” and fill out that title with the meanings we’ve initially taken in. But each of us pulling on the witness of our experiences can say more. Mining memories for the graced times when the Spirit’s presence broke through our everyday, we can locate those visitations when we contributed our unique answers to that saving question put to Peter. “You are the Christ, my strength, my solace, my abundant compassion, my wonder, my neighbor in need – and on and on.”

Fr. Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission lead us in reflecting on how our responses to who Jesus is for us have changed over our lifetime.

 

 

A Life Time of Answering

Who do I pay attention to?

Who do I pay attention to? That is the question I keep asking myself after reading the reflection of Fr. Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission on FamVin. Another way he puts it is “noticing the unnoticed”. Those who have gone before us in the Vincentian tradition notice the unnoticed because they pay attention to the poor and the lowly.

The Grace of Visibility (James 2: 1-5)

America Magazine (8/06/18) recently featured an article entitled “Becoming Invisible.” The author observes how in both the early and ending years of life, a person is less visible to the surrounding world. A newly born looking out over her mother’s shoulder is hardly noticed, but when the eye of a grinning adult locks onto hers, something vital awakens: “I am seen; I am….” The older gentleman walking down the street senses that fewer people look at him passing by, show him that certain flicker of interest. This hunger to be seen (“be desired, be a taken as a person and not simply a role”) is a deep human one and is put there by the Creator. Lacking it, not only the elderly but anyone who goes unacknowledged senses some void. To be “seen” is to know I am not invisible; it is to experience myself as God’s looked-upon child.

In his letter, James plays on this theme of noticing and not noticing. Who gets your attention when they walk into a room, he asks? The man with the golden rings and tailored clothes or the commonly dressed woman with no accessories and shabby shoes? Who is given the favor (grace) of being looked at and who is overlooked? James says it’s especially the unobtrusive ones the disciple should be regarding, those hidden in the back of the room. They are God’s beloved too and need your interest just as much if not more.  By acting as if they are invisible you blunt the love coming from God’s gaze upon them.

This noticing of the unnoticed is a pervasive theme through the Bible. Who is it the Lord feeds, but the hungry, the ones who are bowed down, the shunted aside orphan and widow. Who is it the Lord choses to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, but the neglected of this earth, the ones routinely bypassed in the run of a busy day.

Isaiah also trumpets this visibility. To those who are frightened and feeling vulnerable, he assures the caring glance of the Lord. “Here comes your God to save you,” (Is 35:5) he proclaims. You are visible in God’s eyes, you are noticed and picked out and looked upon with special love. You are not invisible.

A corroborating Gospel incident is where Jesus and the Twelve enter the Temple when contributions are being given. The disciples’ attention swings to the large donors, the ones throwing gold and jewelry into the collection. By contrast, Jesus’ eyes follow an elderly widow who slips in to drop her tiny copper coin. Invisible to most everyone, she is “seen” by Jesus. He imparts to her the grace of recognition. Another instance is when his band passes right by a group of children while Jesus stops and tells them to come and gather round. In his company, these little ones are seen.

This is his consistent pattern, noticing the unnoticed, fixing his eyes on the blind and the crippled and the deaf and the outcast — and so stirring their inner worth. Surely Vincent’s refrain to see the Christ in the other, especially in the suffering and poor other, is our signature call to go and see likewise.

Jesus’ example is unmistakable to disciples of any age. Being “seen” is life-giving. Being “invisible” deadens the spirit. The Creator looks out at creation and, as Genesis puts it, “sees it is good.” To take notice of the overlooked in society, to fix a positive attention on the least celebrated, to give visibility to the mostly invisible is to do what Our Lord continues to do – shine the saving light of personal recognition on the least of the brothers and sisters.

The Planted Word

The Planted Word (James 1: 17-27)

This post originally appeared on FamVIn and drew the following comment…

If ever I and our world needed to hear this message – it is now. Once again, thank you , Tom, for reminding us of this essential dimension of our Vincentian call!

Early in the last century, a boy came home from school to tell his mother how he had thrown snow balls at a homeless man lying drunk in the winter street. Taking him aside, she drove home reasons why he should never demean people, especially someone so down and out: you never know how life had treated him, he was one of God’s children, whatever you give to someone like him will come back to you in time. Those words settled in him at a deep place, so much so that in his later life he proved himself a friend of the poor both by what he said and did. Even more, he managed to sow his Mother’s words into the hearts of his own children who themselves went on to champion the disadvantaged. A rich truth planted in one era, received, cultivated and acted on in the next, blossoming into new fruit in generations still to come.

The Scriptures lock onto “The Word” as the vehicle for God’s presence coming to root in humans. That personal closeness is spoken into us as a Word that would take up residence deep in our hearts. It’s this utterance, the offering of God’s own Self, which saves and heals and brings us back into right relationship with God, others and with our own selves.

The Letter of James comments on ingredients in this process of the Word coming to reside in our hearts. God’s saving Word is already within us, it says, and what we are to do is give it full and open hospitality. “Humbly welcome the Word that has been planted in you and is able to save.” But then it goes on to enumerate ways to both enhance and even pursue this welcome.

First off, hear it. Let God’s Self (in God’s Word) speak to us. Become aware of it not only by opening our ears to that Word coming from the outside through the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church and the calls of modern day prophets. But equally as much listen to what is happening on our insides through the stirrings in our hearts and in the movements of our conscience. James is telling us to listen, to sharpen our outer and inner hearing. It’s what a person does, for instance, when she prepares by reading over Sunday’s gospel beforehand, or when he takes something home that struck a chord during worship and mulls it over throughout the week.

James throws in the other requisite: you must move beyond hearing the Word to doing that Word. These utterances you take notice of eventually need to be performed and so take on the flesh of concrete action. His classic example is care given to the vulnerable and defenseless in his society, the widows and the orphans. This second step, he stresses, is the stamp of a religion that is pure, genuine, and wholesome. Doing justice and not just mouthing justice is what brings you into the presence of the Lord. If there ever was a family trait in our own Vincentian company, James fingers it here.

Finally, the Letter presents an image to describe the results of this listening and doing. It’s the planted seed that gets nourished and cultivated into a healthy tree that then spills out its first juicy crop of apples. When the seed of God’s Word takes root in us, we in our persons produce these first fruits. We ourselves become God’s Word now spoken anew into our world.

The conviction the mother drilled into that young boy about the dignity of the drunken man was ingested, acted on and then replanted. It still blossoms in the attitudes and actions of succeeding generations. May the Word (God’s loving nearness) take root in us as we listen to its whispers inside and hear its shouts coming from the world outside. Planted there, may it prod us to acts of kindness and generosity to the orphans and widows and all the dispossessed of our time.

Swept Up Into

In “Swept Up Into”  Fr. Tom McKenna, CM, Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, offers biblical perspectives on times of rough waters in the rivers of life.

[This reflection on (Amos 7: 15-15; Ephesians 1: 10-14; Mark 6:7-9 first appeared on FamVin]

Years ago I was part of a raft trip down a river that was mostly tranquil but which every once in a while would hit rapids. Then what was a calm, sit-back-and-enjoy-the-scenery stream turned into something like a bouncing, bubbling roller coaster. When the ride was over the guide gave us a talk about the trip and pointed out what he nicknamed “the hidden oomph of the river.” From time to time, as he put it, that energy came up out of its hiding place and caught us whether we liked it or not. In the quiet sections, it was as if that might wasn’t there. But when that energy got concentrated and compressed in those rapids, it surged to the surface and we had little choice but to go with it. The takeaway: there is a hidden energy that occasionally shows itself and draws us along in its momentum.

It came to me as an image of something that happens to individuals all through the Scriptures. There’s Amos, the reluctant prophet who protests he is no such thing, but who at the Spirit’s summons gets taken into the stream (rapids) of being a spokesman for Yahweh (Amos 7:12-15). There’s Paul, who testifies to being swept up into “the purposes of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will.” (Eph 1: 10-14). And then the twelve apostles, happy enough to be Jesus’ companions sharing experiences and meals with Him, but then “sent out” on the road with nothing for the journey but a walking stick.” (Mk: 6)

All of them had been contentedly drifting along on the still surface of what you might call conventional religion, not realizing there was a current of explosive energy running beneath. Then something shows itself in their lives, and the placid, controllable stream grabs hold and sends them off. That certain something is God’s Spirit, the presence and force of God’s loving purposes for the world.

It’s an experience that happens again and again when believers get awakened to the energy and direction that has been silently flowing beneath them. It strikes when the transformative hand of faith shows itself: people change and prodded by God’s own energy they begin to try to change the world around them.

It’s an experience which believers can both look back to and prepare to embrace. Remember those times when the Gospel grabbed hold and changed the tone of how you were treating not only others but your own self? Recall those occasions when a word from the Bible lit up on the page and moved you to act differently, for instance when you forgave someone, or extended a helping hand when you didn’t feel like it, or when something you heard in Church or in your conscience took hold and set you off in a more generous direction.

This sense of faith-rising-up can emerge as a person looks around at problems in his or her world and feels a summons to do something about them.

  • And so Paul’s words about all of us being adoptive children of God moving me to think of other people’s children as in some basic ways my own — and so I so reach out a helping hand to a family in trouble.
  • Or the words of Psalm 85 proclaiming a day when justice and peace shall kiss triggering off a resolve to do something concrete about gun control.
  • Or Jesus’ call to go out on the road and spread his Father’s mercy tugging at me to be more public about my faith convictions.
  • Or the stirring that surged up in Vincent’s heart as he heard Jesus’ charge to preach the Gospel to the poor.

It’s this same phenomenon, the mostly submerged energy of God’s loving presence breaking through to the surface and kicking off a new resolve. It’s those interior flare-ups both in and outside of Church as the Word takes on force. It’s when the example of another becomes the impetus to convert my words of faith into deeds of faith.

Paul tells us that we are picked out, “chosen by God in Christ before the foundations of the world.” This sense of being aroused to move things along toward The Father’s Reign of truth, justice and peace can lie dormant. We ask that our weekly gathering around the Eucharistic table of the Lord be a special setting in which we experience God’s mercy and healing presence as it rises to the surface of our everyday lives.

Fr. Tom McKenna Reflects – Acting For Equality – in Faith


Acting For Equality — in Faith (2 Corinthians 8:13; Mk 5: 25-34)

REVISION

With great chagrin, I apologize to two very close friends, Tom McKenna and Pat Griffin. I was utterly dumbfounded when a third good friend, Ross Dizon, drew my attention to a major error. The “timely reflection:” referred to below was actually written by Fr. Tom McKenna. I literally copied it from his original post! How I made the mistake is a mystery to me. Here is the corrected version.

[This timely reflection of Fr.Tom McKenna  of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission first appeared on FamVin]

If you’re looking for a topical subject in the Scriptures, you wouldn’t have to go much further than the one Paul brings up in a request to the Corinthians. He’s asking them to help their poorer Church members in another part of the empire. What’s so topical is not the fact of his request for money, but rather the line of reasoning he uses as the motive for donating.  And it is this: that before God all of us are equal, and that equality applies across the board not just to spiritual things and matters of worship but extends out to what we possess. In his words, “As a matter of equality, the abundance of goods you now possess should supply for the needs they have.” Those who possess much have an obligation in Christ to share with those who have little.

He’s putting his finger squarely on the today’s hot-button issue of wealth inequality in society, the ever-increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Rather than moving in the direction of more equal distribution of this world’s goods, the forces at work are increasingly tipping things toward the very opposite.  And so for instance, the top 5 percent of earners now take home more than half of all US income, and this is at a record high.  An American CEO now makes over three hundred percent more than the average worker, also setting a record. It’s an issue more and more people are pointing to as a potential boiling point in Western society. And it’s a situation that many more believers than Paul would want to address head on, St. Vincent and Pope Francis very much included.

There’s no denying that the issue is complex and that simple solutions are very elusive. But neither is there no denying that the Gospel and the whole Vincentian tradition are calling us to come up with ways to address it. In the Pope’s words, “The abundance of goods some have should move toward redressing the imbalances between their prosperity and those who don’t have.”

For one, the generosity of the whole Vincentian Family has been a constant response to this principle Paul sets out – sharing out of our abundance and even at times from our want. But because the issue twists with such complexity through all sectors of our society, it moves beyond local charity into the much more intricate realm of how world whole systems collude to bring this about.  Isn’t that exactly what the systemic change approach fostered in our works brings to the table?

While concrete strategies can’t be laid out in a short piece like this, what can be raised is the faith mindset. And by that I mean the mind to step out and do things that shrink the inequality gap – but to do these actions with the faith and confidence that the Lord meets us in them and will sustain and empower our initiatives.

This is the mindset that we meet in that suffering woman in Mark’s gospel who came up to Jesus in the crowd. There were others milling around who had needs and were curious about this arresting preacher — but it was she who acted.  She took a concrete step (touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak) but did it with the faith and trust that he would and could respond to her.

And that’s the mindset — the one that says I can’t sit back but must do something, do it believing that the Spirit of the Lord Jesus will be present guiding that action to bring about that more balanced system where more of God’s people will be treated with equality. That’s the pattern. Reaching out like the hemorrhaging woman in some action or other, but doing so with the faith and dependence that there will be more in that action than we put into it, ‘the more’ being God’s own Spirit.

Isn’t Vincent’s mindset so in accord with Paul’s when he asks the Corinthians to share with the needy from their abundance.  Both Paul and Vincent take concrete steps to see that wealth is more evenly distributed among the believers. But as with the woman in Mark, they do so grounded in their underlying conviction that this is the way in the Kingdom of God and that the Lord’s Spirit will accompany them all along that way.

Living in a Time of Extremes – Wisdom from St. Paul to Oscar Romero

To us who live in a time when extremes on the left and right of the spectrum seem glaring, St. Paul comes with this counsel for keeping on course. “Do not conform yourselves to this age. But be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” To paraphrase him, “There are many currents swirling around in today’s culture. Some are God-inspired which in one way or other match up with the message of Jesus Christ Our Lord and flow along the lines of the life He holds out to us. But then there are others that not only spin away from this current, but even run directly against it. So how do you keep moving in the right direction? Let yourself be changed by continually letting new life (the life of Christ in the Spirit) come into your minds and hearts.”

A few comments on this deceptively simple advice, beginning with the example of someone who took it to heart and indeed at cost.

This past August the country of El Salvador celebrated the 100th birthday of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop assassinated while saying Mass in 1980 for his stance against a small power elite in the country who in different ways had been excluding the poor and underprivileged. He has recently been declared Blessed Oscar Romero, and under Pope Francis will likely be canonized a saint in the coming year.

His is a story of someone who allowed his heart to be renewed, and when responding to that new heart ran afoul of certain embedded beliefs in his society. In Paul’s words, Romero’s attitudes and behaviors did not conform itself to its age.

He started out on a conventional path, polite and self-effacing, making no waves. In his early years as bishop he moved comfortably among the prosperous and powerful. But then because of happenings in the wider Church community, along with the deepening of his own prayer life, he began to look out at his world with refocused eyes. Some of his priests had taken up the cause of the farm laborers and the indigenous peoples. At first wary because they stirred the waters, Romero gradually moved closer to their vantage points. And as he did, certain passages in the Scriptures began to sound more loudly inside him: “Whatever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters, you do to me.”(Mt. 25); “Is this not the kind of fasting I want: to set the oppressed free, to share your food with the hungry.”(Is. 58) “He has sent me to bring good news to the poor.” (Lk. 4)

A dissonance rose up in his heart and mind. The conventional wisdoms, the arguments of “Well, that’s just the way things are,” no longer squared up with what he was hearing and seeing not only around him but most importantly inside him. Paul’s words struck, “Do not conform your view of the world to the viewpoint of some in this society around you. Open up your eyes of faith and let your mind be changed.”

More and more did Romero expose himself to these influences, the Scriptures, the witness of others, the stirrings of The Spirit within. As Paul predicted, they worked to transform his point of view. And it was that changed heart which brought him into conflict with the powers that be, so much so that they conspired to execute him.

With his example and many like him, how can we hear Paul’s summons today to recalibrate our own socio-cultural outlook?

An underlying ingredient in any response would be openness.

Certainly openness to the meaning of the Scriptures, especially to the message of Jesus:

  • Hearing these readings with fresh ears and pliable minds, willing to let them lead us in whatever directions they would.
  • Trying to step out of our own shoes and into The Lord’s so as to see the world more as He sees it.
  • Making the effort to see everyone as a child of Jesus’ Father, possessing that inner worthiness that comes with being loved and valued.

And then from this stance, assessing the various movements in the culture. We might then be able to:

  • Look at the news at night and grasp it more with the eyes of a prophet like Jeremiah who didn’t want to notice what was happening in his world because it was so personally threatening. But because God moved in him he knew he had to look again, then to cry out and at cost to do something.
  • Pick up the paper and read it more with the heart of the Lord Jesus who felt others’ pain and experienced the outsider’s isolation, and then stepped in, indeed at cost, to change things.
  • Spot the witness given by others around us, those in whom this same disharmony has sounded and begun to transform.

This is to walk behind prophets like Jeremiah and Oscar Romero, and surely behind a Vincent de Paul who through that same mixture of prayer and experience came to discern the blindness to the marginalized in his age.

When Paul advises us to “let ourselves be transformed by the renewal of our minds,” he’s also asking us to bare ourselves to that wider range of influences streaming in from God’s Spirit. Things like: the Word of God in the Scriptures, the Sunday gathering at Eucharist, the gospel example of those around us, the promptings rising in our hearts — and indeed the witness of all those who did not go with every tide of their age but who let themselves be taken along in the current that runs down from that font of living water flowing from the crucified side of Our Lord Jesus Christ

“Do not conform yourselves to this age. But be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

This post first appeared on FamVin.

The Humility of Not Taking Gifts for Granted

Vincent de Paul at table with poor, Graz

When I saw Fr. Tom McKenna’s prayer concluding a week of stories about humility as experienced in the Vincentian tradition, I remembered an earlier reflection of his. “What Was Poured Into Me” It unpacks beautifully his prayer.

He begins by sharing people’s experiences of waking up to gifts from their parents that they had taken for granted. (I personally am amazed at the German wisdom sayings I absorbed in my childhood that pop into my head as apt summaries of experiences today.) Here I share you with the section where he lifts up the heritage and treasures from Louise and Vincent we might have taken for granted.

Perhaps we have not recognized their gifts in

The way you read the papers, hear the news, interpret the culture. That is, over the years, more and more looking at it all through the lens of what will serve the least of the brothers and sisters, what will give them a voice and a place at the table. Did you come to that on your own?

What you tend to notice in the Gospels. The way some passages and stories have a leg up on other parts, shine out more brightly on the page, catch your eye; e.g., the Good Samaritan, the poor man at the gate of the rich man, Jesus in the Synagogue picking out the Isaiah passage about “being sent to bring the good news to the poor,” Mt. 25, Jesus gathering the little children, etc. Did you yourself create this sensitivity?

Whom do you admire? Aren’t they in part the Louise’s and Vincent’s of the world. Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Caesar Chavez, Pope Francis, and closer to home the heroines and heroes of your own Vincentian circle (fill in the names). The question is not so much how admirable they were, but rather where did you pick up this particular taste in admiring?

Your deep stories. The subterranean ones that have come to resonate such that they act as your guides and beacons and north stars; i.e., the Family stories (the lives of our saints and blessed, incidents in Louise and Vincent’s lives, seeing the “other side of coin,” the living legends still among us.)

May I add as an example that includes so much of the above – the ability to be moved by the Austrian painting of Vincent Seated at the Table with the Poor. We have learned to see the face of Christ in the midst of the table of the poor.

Let us take a few moments to acknowledge these gifts. He suggests we use the call-and-response in our Prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer: “Lift up your hearts” (to all that’s being given). “It is right and just” (to give thanks to The Lord who is our God.)

Are We to be Signs of the Times?

Are We to be Signs of the Times? Fr.Tom McKenna wrote the following about a year ago on FamVin. But to me, his thoughts still ring true.

Just last week at the end of a sequence of calamitous happenings in the country and world, someone remarked that if he had one wish it would be that when turning on the news he’d hear something other than bad news. His wish caught the dark and heavy feelings of the past months. In such times, where is the light, where is goodness and authenticity and truth?

It’s not hard to project that same mood back into biblical times. With Jesus in Lk (11:15-26) you detect that dark feeling in the air when demons are at work and just as dire that demonic suspicions are being cast about Jesus. “Satan is amongst us and the only reason this man has the power to cast out these demons is because the Prince of demons is supplying that power. Isn’t this still one more sign that God’s power is on the wane, that God is leaving us.

Long before this menacing scene was the disturbing time of the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt. All sorts of ominous events were happening throughout the countryside – swarms of frogs and locusts, contagion, together with the growing resistance of the Jewish people to their oppression.

Injected into both these dark times comes a striking and light-filled figure of speech, ‘the finger of God.’ It’s a phrase to communicate that in the midst of all these threatening events, something else is at work. Something other than the evil and downward pointing forces is in the mix, though because of all the gloom that certain something has been mostly hidden.

And so the Jews in Exodus. The Egyptian wise men, the magicians, are beginning to get anxious because certain abnormal things are occurring in the countryside (locusts, plagues, hail), things out beyond anybody’s control notably the Pharaoh’s. Rubbing his chin, one of them suggests, “Could there be something else operating here down below what we can see? Could it be that ‘the finger of God’ is in this somehow?”

And then Jesus in his dust up with his opponents. “It’s Satan at work on the scene here,” they say. “He’s the evil power pulling all the strings.” Listen to Jesus’ read of the phenomenon: “You’re saying it’s Satan operating here, controlling things. On the contrary, it’s my Father appearing here, His power overpowering Satan’s power.” And the phrase Jesus uses? That very same one we heard in Exodus, — the ‘finger of God,’ again at work in the midst of all these murky and frightening things.

And so the challenge is put before us disciples, we who also live in decidedly anxious times. How do we go about presenting those ‘signs’ that the Kingdom of God is present and at work in the world? How do we do the kinds of things that put body and starch into that phrase, ‘the finger of God’? How do we turn that expression from a platitude into a fleshy reality so that it radiates some of the power that both those magicians in Egypt and the detractors around Jesus felt spilling onto the scene? Especially in darker times are we asked to make this case that the God of Exodus and of Jesus is present and alive and continuing God’s care in the present.

In one of his writings, Karl Rahner comments on this exact phrase, “We can, with the finger of God, show signs that, here and there, the Kingdom of God has come into the world in the form of something bright and wholesome, something sound and true.”

Doesn’t his affirmation and so many others like it lay out the backdrop for all we in Vincent’s Family would do with our time, talent and everyday lives: show signs, here and there, that there’s more in the air than evil, that there’s much more in the story than dark motives and destructive acts. Along with Jesus, we would show signs that the finger of God is present and is touching our world. We would show living and breathing testimony that the Kingdom of God is here in our midst and is ever more steadily bending toward goodness.